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Hezbollah leads protests in Lebanon

Hezbollah and its pro-Syrian allies launched a long-threatened campaign to force Lebanon's U.S.-backed government from office, calling for mass demonstrations today followed by a wave of open-ended protests.

A defiant Prime Minister Fuad Saniora vowed his government would not fall, warning in a nationally televised speech Thursday night that "Lebanon's independence is threatened and its democratic system is in danger."

The call for protests threatens to turn a political power struggle between pro- and anti-Syrian factions into a violent showdown in sharply divided Lebanon.

Government supporters accuse Syria of being behind the Hezbollah campaign, trying to regain its lost influence in its smaller neighbor. Hezbollah and its allies say the country has fallen under U.S. domination and that they have lost their portion of power.

Hezbollah's leader, Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, called for the protests to be peaceful.

From the other camp, the head of the anti-Syrian bloc in parliament, Saad Hariri, said his supporters should not hold counter-demonstrations.

In announcing the protests, Nasrallah said that Saniora's government "has proven it is incompetent and has failed to fulfill its promises and achieve anything significant."

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