Friday, December 1, 2006

Beirut's unprecedented gathering; hundreds of thousands of Lebanese demand Saniora government steps down


"Hundreds of thousands of Lebanese citizens flocked into central Beirut from the early hours of Friday morning to answer the call by the National Opposition to take to the streets to demand shaping up the rule in Lebanon. The Riyad el Soloh Square is full, The Martyrs' Square is also full, Beirut is literarily engulfed by protesters, and the demonstrators who are yet to come from South Lebanon, Mount Lebanon, Northern Lebanon, Baalbek, Bekaa and Western Bekaa region will eventually gather on the peripheries of the two squares. The demonstration and the open sit-in officially kicks off at 3:00 pm Beirut time (1300 GMT). Lebanese Army and police fanned out in Beirut hours before the protest. The demonstrations will be followed by a sit-in that would only end when PM Fouad Saniora's unconstitutional government steps down. Brandishing Lebanese flags the masses held white banners reading "We want a clean government" and "National unity." "Out, out Saniora" protesters shouted after catching a glimpse of the premier on the balcony. "We have had enough ordeals and tears," protesters chanted. "Saniora, out! We want a free government. We want a government that will feed our hunger." The head of the Free Patriotic Movement MP General Michel Aoun addressed the crowd saying: "Saniora has "made many mistakes" and his government has "made corruption a daily affair." He called on the people to "continue the sit-in until we reach our goals" of installing a new unity government. Bankets, food, medical supplies and electrical generators were being distributed for the sit-in, and after Aoun's speech white tents were being set up on two streets leading to Saniora's office as thousands of protesters were expected to stay. National Lebanese Opposition powers are demanding the establishment of a national unity government, a new electoral law and a fair participation in the government. But Saniora vowed his government would not fall, saying in a televised speech Thursday night that "Lebanon's independence is threatened and its democratic system is in danger." Hezbollah Deputy Secretary General Sheikh Naim Kassem said the protests would not end until Saniora's government leaves. "This government will not take Lebanon to the abyss. We have several steps to take if this government did not respond, but I tell them you will not be able to rule Lebanon with an American administration." The decision to take to the streets Friday was postponed due to last week’s assassination of Lebanon’s Industry Minister Pierre Gemayel. The opposition assured that the move will be peaceful and stressed the preservation of public and private properties is a must. Lebanese army Chief General Michel Suleiman called Wednesday on army troops to "stand ready" to maintain public order and protect freedom of expression without taking sides. The opposition has branded the government of Saniora a US puppet. The opposition accuses the majority in cabinet of monopolizing power and says protests has become their only option, after all talks and negotiations have been foiled by the ruling bloc."

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