Lebanese PM Urges Nation to Stop Confrontations Before Donors Meet

By Eva Cahen | July 7, 2008 | 8:18 PM EDT

Paris, France (CNSNews.com) - One day after violent clashes between government supporters and opposition groups left three people dead in Lebanon, Prime Minister Fouad Siniora called on the people of his nation to work together through dialogue and not confrontation.

Siniora spoke in Paris, where he arrived Wednesday for an international donors' conference that has been organized to raise fiscal aid for Lebanon, whose economy was battered by a 34-day war between Israel and the Hizballah Shi'a terrorist organization last summer.

Representatives from some 35 nations and international aid organizations will attend the Paris conference Thursday, and they are expected to pledge about $5 billion in grants and loans to help in the reconstruction of Lebanon.

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon will also attend the conference, which will be hosted by French President Jacques Chirac.

Speaking at a press conference after meeting with Chirac, Siniora asserted that donations would benefit all the Lebanese people, despite questions raised about the stability of his government following Tuesday's confrontations with opposition protestors.

"This conference is not to help a certain group or a certain government, but for all the Lebanese," he said.

Siniora said Tuesday's violence has made his government realize that it must increase efforts to dialogue with the opposition to address their concerns and called on citizens to "think wisely and act wisely for the benefit of all of Lebanon."

"I come from Lebanon after having lived a very difficult day yesterday, but this has given us a lesson that we have to resolve to really work together with dialogue and not confrontation in the street," he said.

Tuesday's clashes occurred when opposition leaders called for a one-day general strike that led to violent clashes between government supporters and opposition Hizballah supporters. More than 100 people were injured.

Hizballah and its allies have been trying to bring down Siniora's coalition government in order to gain a larger role in the government through veto power.

The crisis began in November, when six opposition ministers resigned, and intensified in December through sit-ins outside government offices.

Siniora said the crisis was a result of his government's support for a U.N. plan for an international court to try suspects in the Feb. 2005 assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

International investigators say senior Syrian government officials are implicated in the killing of Hariri, who opposed Syria's domination of Lebanon.

The assassination triggered what's been called the Cedar Revolution, a series of protests and civil disturbances that led to Syria's decision to leave Lebanon later in 2005 after some 30 years of occupation. It remains closely involved with Hizballah, however.

The Shi'a group has accused Siniora and his government of being overly pro-American and insufficiently anti-Israel.

At Wednesday's press conference, Siniora said he did not need to prove his patriotism.

Earlier in the week, Siniora said in an interview with Japan's Kyodo News that Lebanon has "been paying the price of imposed decisions coming from outside countries, like Iran and Syria."

He said Wednesday this meant other nations must stay out of issues that concern Lebanon's territory and allow the Lebanese to resolve their own problems.

He pledged that contributions made at the donors' conference would be put to good use to create a stable Lebanon.

"The cost of helping Lebanon is much less than the cost of not helping Lebanon," said Siniora.

The United States, a strong supporter of the Cedar Revolution and Siniora's government, has pledged to make a substantial donation toward Lebanon's reconstruction, in addition to the $230 million it contributed last year.

France announced a $650 million loan, while the European Union's executive Commission said it would grant more than $500 million in loans and aid to Lebanon.

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