Hezbollah Vows Lebanon Street Protests

The Associated Press
Sunday, November 26, 2006; 5:31 PM

BEIRUT, Lebanon -- A top Hezbollah official said Sunday that the militant Shiite Muslim group will press ahead with threatened street protests and other peaceful means seeking to topple Lebanon's Western-backed government and will stage its actions without warning.

Sheik Naim Kassem, Hezbollah's deputy secretary-general, said the group would not reveal details of planned activities beforehand.

"There is no specific time frame and no final plans. There is a basket of ideas which we will use the way we see fit for achieving our goals," he told the group's Al-Manar television, saying that would make the actions "more effective."

His comments came a day after the Cabinet approved a plan for an international tribunal to try suspects in the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, overriding objections from Hezbollah and other factions allied with Syria, which many Lebanese blame for the killing.

The vote racheted up political tensions in a country divided between opponents and supporters of Syria, which dominated Lebanon for nearly 30 years until mass street protests and international pressure forced Damascus to withdraw occupying troops last year.

Made up mainly of Christians and Sunni Muslims, anti-Syria forces dominate parliament and the Cabinet, but President Emile Lahoud and Damascus' predominantly Shiite allies are stepping up resistance to the government.

Six pro-Hezbollah ministers quit the Cabinet earlier this month over the government refused a demand that the guerrilla group and its allies be given a bigger role in the government.

Hezbollah warned then it would stage mass street demonstrations as a way to disrupt the country and put pressure on the government to resign, but shelves protests after Tuesday's assassination of Industry Minister Pierre Gemayel, an anti-Syria Christian leader.

In renewing the threat, Kassem called on U.S.-supported Prime Minister Fuad Saniora to resign, saying the government's meetings were "worthless and unconstitutional" because the six pro-Hezbollah ministers had resigned.

Saniora's opponents, including the president, argue the current Cabinet doesn't meet a constitutional requirement to broadly represent all of Lebanon's main religious and ethnic communities. That means its actions, including the tribunal vote, are invalid, they say.

"We hold them (government) responsible for political instability and economic deterioration and any failures that may take place in administering the country," Kassem said.

The pro-Syria side seemed to get support from Russia's deputy foreign minister, who was in Damascus on Sunday for meetings with officials the Syrian regime, which is allied with the Kremlin.

Although he didn't specifically cite the Lebanese Cabinet's vote on the international tribunal, Alexander Sultanov told reporters: "Moscow's stand is obvious on the necessity of this court to be clean, legally and constitutionally."

On Friday, Syria's government sent a letter to the U.N. Security Council, on which Russia is one of five veto-wielding members, suggesting it might not cooperate with the tribunal because it was not consulted on the plan.

A U.N. investigation into the February 2005 truck bombing that killed Hariri and 22 others has said the killing's complexity suggested the Syrian and Lebanese intelligence services played a role in the assassination. Syria denies involvement.

© 2006 The Associated Press