Lebanese call on Hezbollah to give up weapons

Sun Mar 13, 2011 2:43pm GMT

By Yara Bayoumy

BEIRUT (Reuters) - Tens of thousands of supporters of Lebanon's toppled premier Saad al-Hariri rallied in Beirut on Sunday, calling for the Shi'ite group Hezbollah which ousted him to put its weapons under state control.

The demonstration in Martyrs' Square was intended as a show of strength for the billionaire Sunni politician, who has gone into opposition after the collapse in January of his fractious 14-month unity government, which included Hezbollah ministers.

"It is impossible for weapons to stay raised against the will of a democratic people and against the truth," Hariri told the crowd, who waved Lebanese flags and banners of his Future Movement.

"We want to put (weapons) under the control and authority of the state because it's the army which protects us all."

Hariri's forceful speech -- in marked contrast to his muted style as prime minister -- escalated the political confrontation with Hezbollah that was triggered by a U.N.-backed investigation into the 2005 assassination of his father, Rafik al-Hariri.

Hezbollah members are expected to be named in still secret indictments issued two months ago by the Hague-based court investigating the killing.

Hezbollah has denied any involvement, and brought down Saad al-Hariri's government after he refused to cut Lebanon's links to the court.

"The people want the overthrow of weapons," demonstrators chanted, playing on the slogans of protesters who overthrew presidents in Egypt and Tunisia and challenged Arab leaders across the region.   Continued...

<p>A woman supporter of Lebanon's toppled premier Saad al-Hariri gestures as she arrives to attend a rally in Martyrs' Square in Beirut March 13, 2011. REUTERS/ Jamal Saidi</p>
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