Hundreds of thousands of Shias from the south have flooded two squares in downtown Beirut. According to LBC, the Christian participation is weak, with even lesser participation by Beirut Sunnis.
The Lebanese army had to redeploy units from the border with Israel to protect the Lebanese government building and businesses from possible riots.
In southern villages, mosque preachers called on people to join the demonstration. In the north, Michel Aoun supporters united with supporters of Bashar Assad's buddy, Suleiman Franjieh. According to LBC and Elaph, they failed to mobilize enough Christian protesters. They probably heeded the calls of the Maronite patriarch yesterday who spoke against the protest.
In fact the Sunni Mufti, the Maronite Patriarch and the anti-Hizbullah Tyre Shia mufti have all spoken against "street protests". The Shia mufti, Ali al-Amin said the protest served the political interests of its organizers and not the people or the country. In a show of solidarity with the cabinet, the Sunni Mufti today led prayers in the government building (Serail).
The Maronite Patriarch, Nasrallah Sfeir, yesterday addressed a group of widows and relatives of assassinated March 14 leaders, saying protests such as the one planned by Hizbullah never solved anything in Lebanon, "a country of 18 sects" that have to "live side by side". Following Sfeir's speech, Pierre Gemayel's mother told the assembled that "Any Christian who demonstrates on Friday will be digging Lebanon's grave".
In reaction to the Sfeir statement, Franjieh said on Hizbullah's TV that the patriarch must have been "turned on" by the widows and mothers who visited him.
It is no wonder then that many Christians stayed home after such insults were hurled at the patriarch-- an act seemingly condoned by Aoun, who, in addressing the Shia Islamists and pro-Assad crowds, wore his secularist garb and delivered a boring and defensive speech.
"My conscience is clear," he began his speech. Many in the Christian community believe the former general sold his conscience for his presidential project.
Dwarfed by Hizbullah and Amal deputies on either side, he berated TV stations for differentiating between Christians and Shia in counting the number of protestors. Many stations reported that hundreds of thousands of Shias descended on the central district, as opposed to only "a few thousands" of Christians. He unsuccessfully tried to justify the smaller Christian participation by arguing that there is no difference between Christian and Shia since they're all Lebanese. This is coming from the man who constantly brags about representing the majority of Christians and speaking in their name.
Aoun called on the cabinet to resign and PM Fouad Siniora to "be replaced by another Sunni with better knowledge of the Lebanese composition." He claimed that his criticism was not directed at the Sunni community.
Aoun inexplicably claimed he was not seeking to isolate the ministers (!) but wants to put the country on stronger foundations and restore the "free decision". He described any international support for the cabinet as "not friendly" and "conspiratorial". He did not comment on Hizbullah's hijacking of decision making in July, or the Iranian-Syrian support that his Islamist ally openly brags about. Hizbullah's 30,000 rockets were also absent from his speech.
LBC quoted protest organizers as saying they were planning on keeping groups in downtown Beirut on a rotational basis until the government resigns.
Hizbullah has convinced its supporters that the cabinet conspired against Hizbullah during the war.
Hezbollah has criticized Siniora's cabinet over what it says was its failure to back Hezbollah during the July-August war with Israel. "The government was negligent during the war. That's why we want a national unity government," Ali Aboud, from south Lebanon, told Reuters.
"We're here to bring down the government. We, the resistance, don't want any influence from the United States," opposition supporter Najwa Bouhamdan, 41, said.
Downtown businesses, which suffered great losses during Hizbullah's summer season war, are not happy. It is unlikely that Shia villagers will frequent the posh nightclubs and restaurants. Many companies located in downtown will be forced to shut down.
The plan is to paralyze life in the country until the government resigns. Finance minister Jihad Azour has warned that the country stands to lose $70 million per day.
March 14 asked all its supporters to stay home and stay calm.
"This an attempted coup but we will remain strong… We will stay home, we will hang Lebanese flags ... and when they decide to return to dialogue, we will welcome that…" said Walid Jumblatt.
He said the Lebanese army had to pull back some of its units from south Lebanon to beef up security in Beirut, wondering whether this would lead to pulling out all Lebanese troops from the south which could "hamper implementation the mandate of the U.N. peacekeeping force" in the volatile region bordering Israel.
"Maybe they don't want to implement (U.N. Security Council Resolution) 1701 and they don't want to implement the Taef accord," which ended the 1975-90 civil war.
The Taef agreement called for reviving the 1949 armistice accord with Israel which bans both nations from using their respective territory for acts of war against each other.
Jumblat said: "They want south Lebanon to remain an arena for an open war so that it can be a commodity used for negotiations by the Iranian and Syrian regimes."(Naharnet)
He said dropping an article in the Hariri tribunal plan that would have classified the assassination as a crime against humanity provided immunity to heads of states such as Bashar Assad and Emile Lahoud. "This wasn't enough for them… now they want to save the rest of the criminals."
Although they don't admit it, Hizbullah and the pro-Syrian parties are going out of their way to sabotage the formation of the international tribunal, and this protest is one facet of it. The Shia ministers resigned right before a cabinet session tentatively approved the plan, and described another session that approved it following UNSC endorsement as "unconstitutional".
The plan needs to be approved by parliament, but the parliament speaker, Nabih Berri, is a Hizbullah ally and generally follows Syrian and Iranian orders.
The sit-in/protest official slogan is "we want a clean government."
Finally, this joke, courtesy of Assad's representative in Lebanon, puppet-president Emile Lahoud, who is openly calling for civil disobedience.
Lahoud also accused Saniora's government of being a puppet administration controlled by the United States and France. "It must be replaced, but what is holding it together is pressure from the United States and France," he said. I have received many death-threats, and feel betrayed by this government, but it's my duty to be here, because if I went, believe me, it would be much worse," said Lahoud.
At the end of the interview, Lahoud said: "What I want for Christmas is a miracle: that Lebanon be left alone by external forces to decide its own future and live with a new government in peace. (Naharnet)
Update. The Hizbullah militia has laid siege to the government building, trapping the prime minister and cabinet ministers inside. Roadblocks were set up by Hizbullah members in what can only be described as coup d'etat.
The Lebanese army had to call Nabih Berri, and the Saudi King had to intervene through his ambassador, to "partially" remove the siege. Hizbullah "tents" are still on the roads, isolating the government building.
The Saudi king phoned the cabinet and spoke to all ministers one by one, affirming his support. The only countries NOT supporting this government are Syria and Iran.
March 14 is "watching and observing".
Meanwhile, Fairuz refused to cancel a scheduled performance of her play "Sah El-Nom" today at BIEL in downtown Beirut. The play was scheduled to begin on July 12 in Baalbeck, but was canceled because of the Hibzullah-Israel war.