Lebanon slipping 'into anarchy, war'
Beirut, February 10, 2008
A leading member of Lebanon's anti-Syrian governing coalition on Sunday warned of anarchy and raised the spectre of war in the country, which is suffering its worst political crisis since the 1975-90 civil war.
Druze leader Walid Jumblatt urged powerful opposition group Hezbollah to break its alliance with Syria, which supports the Shi'ite Muslim group and its allies in their political campaign against the US-backed governing coalition.
Assassinations, the arming of militias and a continued vacuum in the presidency would 'drag all to anarchy', Jumblatt said in a televised address, singling out Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah for criticism.
'If you think that we will stand with our hands tied, this is pure imagination', said Jumblatt, an influential figure in the governing coalition whose war of words with the opposition has recently escalated.
'You want anarchy? (We) welcome anarchy. you want war? (We) welcome war,' Jumblatt said, to the cheers of supporters. 'There is no problem with weapons ...,' added Jumblatt.
The crisis has exacerbated tensions between followers of rival sectarian leaders and led to the worst street violence since the civil war. The crisis has also paralysed government and left Lebanon without a president since November, when the term of pro-Syrian President Emile Lahoud expired.
Jumblatt called supporters to attend a rally on Thursday to mark the third anniversary of the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Al Hariri, whose killing the governing coalition blames on Syria.
Damascus denies involvement in the Feb.14, 2005 Beirut truck bombing that killed the former prime minister and the assassinations of other anti-Syrian figures since then.
Saad Al-Hariri, the former prime minister's son and political heir, last week said Lebanon was in direct confrontation with Syria and Iran, another sponsor of Hezbollah.
'If our fate is confrontation, then we are for it,' said Hariri, who leads the governing coalition and took his father's place as Lebanon's most powerful Sunni Muslim leader.
Led by Hezbollah, the opposition alliance commands the support of most Lebanese Shi'ites, but also includes Christian leader Michel Aoun, leader of the largest Christian bloc in parliament.
Commanding a well-trained guerrilla army, Hezbollah is considered the strongest faction in Lebanon. But the group says its weapons are only for use against Israel.
'The opposition cannot be dragged into internal strife,' Hezbollah MP Mohammed Raad said on Saturday. 'Do they want to confront the opposition's public? Do they want to cause internal strife? They say: 'We are for confrontation and ready for it'. We say to them, Lebanon's fate is concord,' Raad said.
The rival sides have agreed on army chief General Michel Suleiman as the next president, but his election by parliament has been held up by a dispute over the make-up of a new government. The election was postponed on Saturday for the 14th time from Monday to Feb.26.-Reuters