BEIRUT (Reuters) â€” Hizbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah called on Lebanese to take part in an anti-government strike on Tuesday to topple leaders who he said wanted to take the country to civil war.
Nasrallah said his Shiite Muslim group, part of the opposition which is locked in a power struggle with the government, would not be dragged to violence in a country still rebuilding from its 1975-1990 civil war.
“Some of the governing team strive day and night to push matters towards a civil war in Lebanon. Some of them work and dream … that there will be a Sunni-Shiite war in Lebanon,” he said, adding that they sought to partition the country.
“We will not go to a civil war,” Nasrallah told followers gathered to mark Ashura, when Shiites commemorate the death of the Prophet Mohammad’s grandson,Â Imam Hussein.
The opposition has called a general strike for Tuesday, stepping up its campaign to oust the government of Prime Minister Fuad Siniora, who has in turn defied its demands for veto power in Cabinet and early parliamentary polls.
“Tomorrow we have a new action … to confront a faction which, if it stays in power, wants to take Lebanon to a civil war,” Nasrallah said, urging all Lebanese to take part.
Opposition figures have indicated that mass protests would accompany the strike. The opposition has vowed to keep its activism peaceful.
Siniora to go to Paris
Siniora, speaking earlier on Monday, dismissed the opposition challenge and pushed ahead with plans to attend an economic aid conference in Paris on Thursday. His government expects to receive pledges of billions of dollars in aid.
Siniora said security forces would not allow protesters to block key roads or facilities and urged people to go to work.
“We call on all Lebanese to … have confidence in the Lebanese army and the security forces that will exert every effort to maintain freedoms and security,” Siniora told a news conference.
Nasrallah warned that the military and security apparatus would collapse if any sect “pushes matters towards violence”.
The opposition, which also includes the Shiite Amal faction and Christian leader Michel Aoun, has been camped outside Siniora’s Beirut offices since December 1 to press its demands.
Opposition sources say protests could last for days and possibly shut down Beirut’s airport and port.
Nasrallah was making his second public appearance since Hizbollah’s July-August war with Israel.
Siniora, who has Western and Saudi backing, says part of the aid he seeks at Thursday’s conference will help cover war costs.
The government also wants financial help to ease the burden of its massive public debt of $41 billion.
“We are going to the Paris conference in the interest of all Lebanese, loyalists and opposition, to find backing and support,” Siniora said.
Nasrallah said France was hosting the conference to support Siniora’s government. He said the government’s priority was servicing debt which is largely held by Lebanese banks. “To whom do the banks belong?” he asked. “To them,” he said.