Saniora Accuses Nasrallah of Coup Threat

The Associated Press
Friday, December 8, 2006; 2:46 PM

BEIRUT, Lebanon -- Prime Minister Fuad Saniora on Friday accused Hezbollah's leader of threatening a coup in an unusually harsh exchange between the two rivals that stoked tensions as the Shiite guerrilla group escalated its attempts to oust the government.

Saniora spoke to hundreds of supporters in his fortified office, where he has lived for more than a week. Outside, pro-Hezbollah demonstrators in a nearby square replayed on loudspeakers a Thursday night speech in which their leader, Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, accused the prime minister of siding with Israel during the July-August war.

The prime minister said Nasrallah "is threatening a coup and his statements carry all the seeds of dissension and threat."

Saniora criticized the Hezbollah leader for his attitude in the speech, in which he accused the prime minister of being "stubborn" and said members of the government were responsible for the war, which began after Hezbollah seized two Israeli soldiers.

"Who appointed you to say 'I am right and all else is false'?" the prime minister asked.

Saniora, who has received strong Western and Arab support, repeated that Hezbollah's protests, now in their eighth day, would not force his resignation. The pro-Syrian Hezbollah and its opposition allies have called for a huge demonstration Sunday, saying it will mark an escalation in their attempts to oust the U.S.-backed premier.

Hezbollah and its allies began demonstrating after Saniora rejected their demands for a third of the Cabinet's seats _ an effective veto.

Six pro-Hezbollah ministers resigned from the Cabinet last month over Saniora's refusal to accept the demand, depriving the government of any Shiite representation.

The political division has taken dangerous sectarian lines, with most Sunni Muslims supporting the Sunni prime minister and Shiites backing Hezbollah. Christian factions are split between the two camps.

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak warned Friday the protests could escalate to "very serious confrontations and even lead to the destruction of Lebanon."

"I fear the consequences," Mubarak said in a TV interview on a visit to Paris. "There is also the risk of foreign interference," he added in a veiled reference to Syria and Iran, the sponsors of Hezbollah.

Hezbollah has not said what it plans to do next, but some Lebanese believe it might call for civil disobedience or escalate street protests, disrupting vital utilities such as Beirut airport. So far, however, Nasrallah has stressed that his supporters must demonstrate peacefully.

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