by Salim Yassine BEIRUT (AFP) – Lebanese  leader Michel Aoun has vowed that the opposition will escalate its street protests if the Western-backed government fails to accept demands for a unity cabinet. "If the prime minister (Fuad Siniora) and his camp continue to monopolize power, there will be an escalation of popular pressure," Aoun, 71, told AFP in an interview Wednesday.

"We will paralyze the government, we will force it to go into a deep coma."The Hezbollah-led opposition, made up of different factions, has held demonstrations since Friday outside Siniora’s offices in Beirut where he and several ministers have been holed up.The opposition is seeking a greater say in the Siniora government, which is dominated by an anti-Syrian parliament majority but is hanging by a thread after six pro-Damascus ministers quit. Siniora’s coalition has accused the opposition of seeking to block a cabinet decision for an international tribunal to try suspects in the 2005 murder of former premier Rafiq Hariri, widely blamed on Syria

The tense situation in the capital has led to two consecutive nights of street fights between followers of the two camps that left one man dead and 15 others wounded."If Siniora wants to negotiate, he will have to present us some proposals, but we will not accept anything less than true power-sharing and a blocking minority share" in the government, said Aoun.


Aoun, a former premier and general who now sits in parliament, criticized the unconditional backing of Western and some Arab states given to Siniora’s government.

"We welcome favorably Arab and other meditation attempts," he said. "But the mediators should be at an equal distance from all parties, and not back blindly a government which has lost popular confidence."

He accused the ruling majority of "monopolizing power".

"They are acting in diktats, they are using the same methods of their former Syrian masters," he said, referring to the Syrian military domination of Lebanon which ended after Damascus was forced to pull out its troops in 2005.

"Those who are ruling us today were in power during the era of Syrian tutelage," said Aoun, who himself returned from 15 years of exile in France days after Syrian forces left Lebanon.

"They only changed their masters," he said, alluding to Washington’s backing of Siniora’s government.

Aoun said he was ready to help facilitate the creation of the Hariri tribunal.

"I am ready to adopt the tribunal, but we have not been informed about the text (for the creation and the regulation of the court) and it needs to be discussed in parliament," he said.

Aoun also said he was "favorable" to the holding of an international donors’ conference for Lebanon, and which was expected to be held in Paris at the end of January.

The conference aims to secure long-term assistance to help Lebanon recover from the Israel-Hezbollah conflict which caused more than 3.5 billion dollars in damage.

"But this corrupted government which has an economic strategy based only on loans and debts, is incapable of carrying out reforms that would allow a better use of the assistance," he said.