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Hundreds of Thousands Protest in Lebanon (AP)

 Pope Urges Unity and Help for 'Good of Country' (Naharnet)

 Sfeir says insulting tone of speeches points to trouble ahead (Daily Star)


Hundreds of Thousands Protest in Lebanon

By SAM F. GHATTAS and ZEINA KARAM, Associated Press Writers

Sunday, December 10, 2006 11 36 PM


Picture retrieved from

 Hundreds of thousands of Hezbollah members and their allies flooded central Beirut on Sunday

 demanding changes in the government's makeup as soldiers strung more barbed wire around the offices

 of the Western-backed premier.

 Buoyed by the big turnout after a week of street protests, the pro-Syria opposition gave Prime Minister

 Fuad Saniora an ultimatum of a "few days" to accept its demand to form a national unity government

 with a big role for Hezbollah or face an escalating campaign to oust him.

 Saniora, who has been holed up in his fortified office downtown, rejected the demand and urged his foes

 to resume negotiations. The opposition should "return to the constitutional institutions to discuss

 differences and reach real solutions," he said in a written statement.

 Political unrest has split the country along sectarian lines, with most Sunni Muslims supporting the Sunni

 prime minister and Shiite Muslims backing the militant Hezbollah. Christian factions are split between the

 two camps.

 But despite the heated rhetoric of the political confrontation, Sunday's mass gathering remained peaceful

 and left the door open to the possibility of a settlement.

 "Hopefully it won't be long. At the end, there will be no winner, no vanquished. We should all be winners

 ," Saad Hariri, leader of parliament's anti-Syria majority and a Saniora supporter, told The Associated


 Police had no immediate crowd estimate, but the horde that jammed downtown plazas and many

 neighborhoods appeared one of the biggest in a country that has seen a string of mammoth

 demonstrations by both sides in recent years. A Hezbollah anti-government rally Dec. 1 drew 800,000 of

 Lebanon's 4 million people, according to police figures.

 Pro-government groups staged a rival demonstration that drew tens of thousands in the northern port

 city of Tripoli.

 Hezbollah's supporters streamed into downtown from all corners of Lebanon, waving Lebanese and

 Hezbollah flags as loudspeakers blasted anti-government speeches. Musicians pounded drums in a

 carnival-like atmosphere, while Hezbollah security agents fanned out in the crowd.

 "We have come to show them how big our size really is," said Reem al-Zein, a 20-year-old philosophy

 student. "I think this lying government will not be able to last much longer after today."

 Sheik Naim Kassem, Hezbollah's deputy leader, said the opposition was willing to stay on the streets for

 months to achieve its goal.

 "Does Bush want popular expression in Lebanon? Do the West and the Arabs want to hear the voice of

 the people in Lebanon? Tell them 'Death to America!' Tell them 'Death to Israel!'" the crowd repeated

 behind him.

 Michel Aoun, a Christian leader allied with Hezbollah, warned Saniora he had only "a few days" to accept

 a national unity government or face further action.

 "What we hope for today is for them to understand that their era is over," he said in a video link shown

 on giant screens.

 Aoun added that the opposition was committed to "to peaceful means, but even other means are


 Lebanese media have speculated the opposition's next steps could include civil disobedience, disruptions

 of public services and resignations from parliament.

 The political crisis began after talks on a national unity government collapsed and six pro-Hezbollah

 ministers resigned from the Cabinet. Hezbollah is demanding that it and its allies hold a third of the

 Cabinet posts, which would allow them to veto government decisions.

 Relations between the two camps deteriorated after the Israel-Hezbollah war last summer and a U.N.

 push for an international tribunal to try suspects in the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese Premier

 Rafik Hariri, which many people blame on neighboring Syria.

 Hezbollah's fight against Israel sent its support among Shiites skyrocketing, emboldening it to push for

 more political power. The militant group also accuses Saniora and some elements in his government of

 working with Israel to destroy the guerrilla force.

 Pro-government groups, in turn, resent Hezbollah for sparking the war by capturing two Israeli soldiers.

 Saniora's allies, along with the United States and others, accuse Hezbollah's Syrian and Iranian backers of

 seeking to overthrow the government.

 If Saniora resigned, he would continue in a caretaker capacity until parliament named a new premier and

 formed a new Cabinet, but he has shown no sign of giving in. Soldiers and police sealed off major roads

 in Beirut and strengthened defenses around Saniora's downtown complex, where he has been living with

 other Cabinet ministers.

 On Sunday, Saniora said he was open to dialogue and acknowledged the political crisis threatened

 Lebanon's security, economy and political system.

 "We don't want Lebanon to be an arena of the wars of others," Saniora said, in a veiled reference to Syria

 and Iran. "Lebanon is a nation, not an arena."

 Saad Hariri, son of the assassinated premier, said the government was open to meeting opposition

 demands but only as part of a broader deal.

 Among those, he said, would a decision on the fate of President Emile Lahoud. Anti-Syria groups have

 repeatedly demanded his resignation, accusing him of being a front for Syria, whose army occupied

 Lebanon for nearly three decades.

 Hariri said the opposition also would have to agree to support the international tribunal on his father's

 slaying and to implement all of the U.N. resolution that ended the summer war. One of the latter's

 requirements is for Hezbollah to disarm, something it has refused to do.

 "Once we agree on the principles there is no problem," Hariri told AP.


Pope Urges Unity and Help for 'Good of Country'



 Pope Benedict XVI on Sunday urged the Lebanese to unite for "the good of the country" and called on the

 international community to commit to find "urgent solutions'' to Lebanon's problems.

 "I call on the Lebanese and their political officials to have in their hearts only the good of the country and

 harmony between their communities," the pope said during his Sunday Angelus as the March 8 forces

 and the Free Patriotic Movement were set to stage a mass rally in downtown Beirut later in the day.


 "This unity is the responsibility of each and everyone and requires strength, patience and perseverance,"

 the pope said.


 In Lebanon where "people of different cultures and religions are called to live together," the pope urged

 the "building of a nation of dialogue and coexistence."


 "I also hope that the international community will help to identify urgent peaceful and fair solutions

 necessary for Lebanon and for all of the Middle East, while I ask all to pray at this serious time."


 He said he was "following with great concern the events in the Middle East, where glimmers of solutions

 to the crises afflicting the region alternate with tensions and difficulties that spark fears of new violence."



Sfeir says insulting tone of speeches points to trouble ahead

By Maroun Khoury

Daily Star correspondent

Monday, December 11, 2006

 BKIRKI: Maronite Patriarch Nasrallah Boutros Sfeir said on Sunday that the prevailing Lebanese political

 deadlock "portends evil." "As it is said, a war starts with a word ... listening to the current speeches,

 which are loaded with insults, one can say that a war is on the verge of igniting," the prelate said in a

 sermon at Bkirki.

 "No one cares about the Lebanese people, who are only worried about their source of income and the

 future of their children," he said. "Most of the Lebanese people are unable to meet their daily needs since

 the country's economic, and probably social, activity is completely paralyzed."

 Sfeir urged all Lebanese to stand united in order to end the prevailing crisis and restore security, stability,

 peace and independence in Lebanon.

 In other developments, Sfeir met on Saturday with Free Patriotic Movement leader MP Michel Aoun.

 Aoun said after the meeting that he hoped all Lebanese parties would accept the Maronite Church's

 "declaration of principles" issued last week.

 The Maronite Council of Bishops, headed by Sfeir, issued a conciliatory statement on behalf of the church

 on Wednesday containing several suggestions for ending the political deadlock.

 The recommendations included the implementation of "a code of honor" to be applied to all parties, the

 creation of an international tribunal to try suspects in the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik

 Hariri, a new electoral law and the formation of a "reconciliation" government that would hold early

 presidential elections.

 In response to a question from reporters, Aoun denied that the church had asked him to "leave the


 "Bkirki said that streets do not solve the problem, while admitting that demonstrating is a sacred

 constitutional right of all Lebanese," he said.

 "We spent two months at the dialogue table ... and we weren't able to solve any problems," he said.

 "That is why we decided to hold peaceful demonstrations ... and they will remain peaceful."

 Aoun also renewed his call for Premier Fouad Siniora to step down.

 "Your Excellency the prime minister, stop being stubborn ... go home," Aoun said in a televised

 statement Saturday from his home in Rabieh. "That's better for you because you are unable to steer the

 ship no matter how much support you get from abroad. Please step down." - With Naharnet