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Monday, November 27, 2006

Hezbollah issues warning

BEIRUIT (Globe & Mail)-- The Shia movement Hezbollah warned yesterday that Lebanon was headed into a "dark tunnel" unless the country's pro-Western government soon gives in to its demands for more power.

The warning came one day after Prime Minister Fouad Siniora and his cabinet ratified a proposed United Nations tribunal that will investigate a string of political assassinations in the country that many Lebanese blame on neighbouring Syria.

The move was slammed as unconstitutional by Hezbollah, which pulled its allies out of the cabinet two weeks ago to support its demands for an effective veto over government decisions. The tribunal decision now goes to President Émile Lahoud for approval. Mr. Lahoud, a pro-Syrian figure who owes his position to Syrian President Bashar Assad, is expected to refuse to sign it into law.

Hezbollah has been locked in a power struggle with the government since the end of this summer's war with Israel, when the government did little to support the militia in its fight. The Shia movement, backed by Syria and Iran, accuses the government of collaborating with Israel and being a U.S. puppet.

Hezbollah, along with other political forces allied with Syria, is expected to launch street demonstrations this week, aiming to force the resignation of Mr. Siniora and his cabinet.

Pro-Western groups have said they will respond with protests of their own, leading to worries that duelling street demonstrations could devolve into violence.

Mohammed Raad, the head of Hezbollah's parliamentary caucus, said that out of respect for Pierre Gemayel, a Christian leader who was assassinated last week, pro-Syrian forces would give the government several more days to meet its demands.

"The ruling majority has a chance until the mourning period ends, and it should seize that opportunity, or else they will get themselves into a dark tunnel," he said.

John Bolton, the U.S. ambassador to the UN, upped the stakes over the weekend, saying that Lebanon was locked in a battle between "democracy and terrorism" that could decide the course of the entire region. "The future of the Middle East . may well be decided in the next several days."
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