BEIRUT (Reuters) – A Lebanese Sunni preacher led thousands of anti-government Shi’ite protesters in prayers on Friday, in a show of Muslim unity designed to dispel fears of sectarian strife.
The Hezbollah-led opposition has besieged government headquartersfor the past week to try to topple the Western-backed cabinet of PrimeMinister Fouad Siniora.
Shi’ite Hezbollah is the most powerful force in the opposition while Siniora and his main backer,parliamentary majority leader Saad al-Hariri, are both Sunnis.
The city center protest has heightened tensions between the two communities, but Preacher Fathi Yakan, who leads a small pro-opposition Sunni group, urged unity.
“This mass protest is not for Shi’ites or for Sunnis or any other sect. It is for all of Lebanon,” he said, accusing the government of being an agent of the United States.
“Fellow Lebanese, Sunnis and Shi’ites, Druze and Christians, beware and then beware of sliding toward the hell of strife,” he said, his words echoing around downtown Beirut which still bears the scars of the1975-90 civil war.
Shi’ite parties withdrew their ministers from the cabinet last month and have called for the creation of a government of national unity following this summer’s 34-day war with Israel.
“Your sit-in, God willing, will foil the American project in Lebanon,” Yakan said.