Hizbollah supporters tell PM to quit in huge Beirut protest

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The Independent Online

Hundreds of thousands of Hizbollah supporters packed the roads of the Lebanese capital yesterday as they took part in a huge anti-government rally.

"We're from the north and the south and we've come to fill your squares, Beirut," was the chant from the crowd. Hundreds of soldiers and armoured troop carriers were deployed around central Beirut, while barbed wire surrounded government offices.

Hizbollah supporters called for the resignation of the anti-Syrian US-backed government of the Prime Minister, Fouad Siniora. "Siniora into the pit!" roared the crowd while many held signs that read: "We want a clean government."

Following the huge anti-Syrian rally that followed the funeral of the assassinated Christian minister Pierre Geyamal last week, it was Hizbollah's turn to prove they too could bring a show of force to the streets. "We're the majority! Take a picture of us and show we are the majority!" shouted an old veiled woman, "We've come from the Bekaa Valley and we want this government to resign."

Heeding yesterday's call from the Hizbollah leader Sayed Hassan Nasrallah for an open-ended strike and indefinite sit-in, many who came said they would not leave until their demands were met. "Until the problem is over, we will stay," said a mother and daughter who had travelled two hours to Beirut from southern Lebanon. "We have brought supplies and we will sleep here if necessary until the government resigns."

Hizbollah and its allies have been demanding the formation of a government of national unity, after six Shia ministers resigned from the cabinet three weeks ago, leaving the government without any Shia Muslim representatives.

"We are here because we want a share in ruling this country," said 23-year old Rima. "It can't just be one sect. The Sunnis are trying to rule this country alone."

Hizbollah has accused Mr Siniora's cabinet of failing to support them during the July-August war with Israel and many demonstrators accused the anti-Syrian government of hurting the Shia party's war efforts.

"This government didn't help us at all during the war so we want the government now to end," said 17-year-old Mona. "We love Nasrallah because, without him, Lebanon would have been destroyed but he made Israel leave."

But the man everyone was waiting for did not show, as Mr Nasrallah left Michel Aoun, Hizbollah's Christian ally and leader of the Free Patriotic Movement, to address the crowd. "I call on the Prime Minister and his ministers to quit," Mr Aoun said to the crowd.

The Syrian and Iranian- backed Hizbollah has branded Mr Siniora's government as a US puppet and America was accused of interfering in Lebanon's affairs by many of the speakers. "They are letting the Americans interfere in our country and we don't want that. We want an independent Lebanon," said Bilal, a 17-year-old Hizbollah supporter.

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