By Tom Perry BEIRUT, Jan 23 (Reuters) – Lebanon’s opposition called on workers to go on strike on Tuesday in an escalation of its campaign against the government that is set to deepen the political crisis in the country. Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, part of the opposition, called on Lebanese to observe the strike and be ready for more steps which the opposition might announce to press its demands for veto power in cabinet and new elections. Prime Minister Fouad Siniora’s  has shrugged off the demands, instead preparing for an international aid conference in Paris on Thursday that it hopes will yield billions of dollars for Lebanon’s debt-laden economy.

Opposition figures, who say the government is illegitimate and a tool of the United States, have suggested mass protests would accompany the strike. The opposition’s campaign, which started on Dec. 1 with an open-ended protest in central Beirut, has been largely peaceful. One anti-government protester was shot dead in December.

The Free Patriotic Movement and Hezbollah and other opposition groups say the campaign will remain peaceful.

Nasrallah, speaking late on Monday, said some ruling politicians wanted violence in Lebanon, which is still rebuilding from its 1975-1990 civil war.

"We will move and if you want to kill us in the street, kill us," Nasrallah said. "We will not draw our weapons against you."

Lebanese political analyst Oussama Safa said he did not expect the strike to lead to widespread violence. "But there will be more polarisation," he said.


The standoff has raised tensions between Sunni and Shi’ite Muslims in Lebanon — a country with a delicate sectarian power balance.

The government is backed by Sunni leader Saad al-Hariri and the opposition includes Shi’ite groups Hezbollah and Amal. Bad feeling is also high between Christians whose leaders are split between the two camps.

Leaders allied to the government called on Lebanese to go to work. "We have to put our faith in God, get up and go to work," said Samir Geagea, leader of the Christian Lebanese Forces.

Siniora has said security forces will not allow protesters to block key roads or facilities and urged people to go to work.

Nasrallah warned the military and security apparatus would collapse if any sect "pushes matters towards violence".

Opposition sources say protests could last for days and possibly shut down Beirut’s airport and port.

Senior U.S. government officials said on Monday the United States plans to make a substantial aid contribution at the Paris meeting.

The Beirut government wants aid to cover the costs of a July-August war between Hezbollah and Israel and to ease the burden of the country’s massive $41 billion public debt, much of it accumulated while Lebanon was rebuilding from its civil war.