BEIRUT (AFP) – The Lebanese opposition led by Hezbollah have announced plans to step up demonstrations against the Western-backed government, in an escalation which could paralyze the economy.
“This movement will begin on Tuesday and in a progressive manner will extend to all the ministries and will touch all the vital centers” of the country, said former general Michel Aoun, a Christian ally of the Shiite militant group.
An opposition movement aimed at toppling the anti-Syrian majority government of Prime Minister Fuad Siniora was launched with a rally by hundreds of thousands of protesters last December 1.
Since then demonstrators have been camping outside the government’s main offices in central Beirut.
Asked during a news conference Monday for details on the new plans, which were agreed upon by opposition leaders during a meeting at his home near Beirut, Aoun refused to elaborate.
The opposition had previously threatened to blockade the airport and call a more widespread civil disobedience campaign.
Aoun also said he supported a call by Lebanon’s main labor union, CGTL, to begin a sit-in at the finance ministry from Tuesday in protest at the government’s reform proposals ahead of an international donor conference in Paris later this month.
Druze leader Talal Arslan said the opposition had called for a “massive turnout” at the demonstration organized by the CGTL, which has 200,000 members.
The Paris III donor conference, scheduled for January 25, is sponsored by France, the European Union, the United States and the United Nations.
Already deep in debt from rebuilding after its 1975-1990 civil war, Lebanon sank further into the red after last year’s July-August war between Hezbollah and Israel, with total public debt estimated at 41 billion dollars.
The government plans to reform Lebanon’s finances to encourage growth by privatizing sectors such as mobile telephones and electricity, in return for international aid to reduce the staggering debt burden.
But the opposition accuses the Siniora government of “prematurely” opening a vital file at a time when the political scene is in disarray under a government which it charges is “illegitimate”.
The pro-Syrian opposition pulled its six ministers out of the cabinet in November, including all five Shiites representing Lebanon’s largest community.
Siniora has rejected its demands for a new government of national unity in which the opposition would have veto powers and the holding of early general elections.
All mediation efforts between the rival camps have failed to ease the crisis, including a mission by Arab League chief Amr Mussa.