Lebanon: Protests against Saniora government continue

FRFI 195 February / March 2007

In a desperate attempt to shore up the puppet Saniora government, the imperialist powers came together in a ‘donor’ conference in Paris on 25 January and pledged $7.5bn aid for the reconstruction of Lebanon. They did so amid massive protests led by Hizbullah and the largely Christian Free Patriotic Movement united in the Lebanese National Opposition. The aid is linked to a reform plan adopted by the Lebanese cabinet on 4 January which proposes to raise value-added tax and privatise telephone and electricity sectors. Lebanon’s state debt, currently running at 41 billion dollars, is 185% of GNP, making it one of the world’s most indebted nations. Its economy remains at a virtual standstill following the Israeli blitzkrieg last summer.

Opposition to the reforms started with a sit-in organised by Lebanon’s main labour union in Beirut. Throughout January there have been continual protests culminating on 23 January with a one-day general strike to bring down the imperialist-backed government. Led by Hizbullah, the stoppage marked the first escalation by the opposition since its supporters began an open-ended daily sit-in around government offices in central Beirut on 1 December 2006 to demand a national unity cabinet. ‘In the face of the obstinacy of the government barricaded behind the walls of the Grand Serail, the opposition calls on its supporters to step up their peaceful and democratic protests and on all Lebanese to observe a [one-day] general strike’, an opposition statement said.

The action was announced the day after Hizbullah Secretary General Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah vowed that the opposition would be taking more action to see that its demands are met. But the Hizbullah leader, who seeks the formation of a national unity government, has also promised that the alliance will never use weapons in its political struggle in Lebanon, repeating that the group’s arms are for fighting Israel: ‘We are not a sectarian-motivated party,’ he said.

Although the Lebanese government threatened to use the police and armed forces to quell the strike, thousands of people blocked off the main roads with rubble and burning tyres in the Lebanese capital, including that leading to Beirut international airport. ‘Saniora out, down with the government’, the protesters chanted as they lit tyres in central Beirut, close to the prime minister’s office. Protesters also cut off several streets in central Beirut and the mainly Shia southern suburbs and the southern and northern entrances of the capital. The highway to Damascus was also blockaded. In some suburbs, the protesters faced opposition from a pro-government militia, who opened fire and threw stones at them, killing six people and injuring over 120 others in the process.

The Lebanese national opposition issued a statement calling on the government to get the message of the strike. It warned that it would adopt other forms of protest against the unconstitutional government of Saniora and his ruling bloc. The leader of the Al Marada movement, the former Interior Minister Suleiman Franjieh said ‘A new chance has been granted to the March 14th movement. If they ignore the nation’s will, we will take on a much more decisive action. Today’s strike with all its vitality and greatness will be nothing compared to that.’
Yehya Ayesh


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