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Protestors pitch tents in Beirut's streets

Thousands of Hezbollah supporters set up camp in the heart of Beirut on Saturday, starting an open-ended sit-in with a carnival atmosphere intended to pressure the U.S.-backed government of Fuad Saniora into resigning.

The political crisis, which has disrupted life in the capital's commercial district and raised fears of violence between the country's pro- and anti-Syria forces, showed no sign of easing.

Saniora said he would not step down and urged Hezbollah to abandon its protests.

"This government will continue as long as it enjoys the support and backing of the constitutional institutions in the country, most importantly Parliament," said Saniora, who received support from European leaders.

"Taking to the streets will not lead us anywhere. ... There is just one way to solve our problems, and that is to sit behind a table to discuss all our differences," Saniora said. "Other than that it is a waste of time, waste of resources and waste of opportunities."

As he spoke, thousands of Hezbollah loyalists clamored noisily around hundreds of white tents pitched in central Beirut, saying they would stay until Saniora's government fell. Shouts of "Saniora out!" occasionally rose from the protesters.

Six pro-Hezbollah ministers resigned from the Cabinet last month after Saniora and his slim anti-Syrian majority in Parliament rejected the group's demand for a new national unity government that would effectively give it and its allies veto power.

The current government is largely backed by Sunni Muslims and Christians who oppose involvement in the country's affairs by neighboring Syria, which was forced to end a nearly three-decade military occupation last year.

Saniora and his supporters call Hezbollah's campaign a coup attempt led by Syria and its ally Iran, a stance echoed by Washington, which is seeking to counter Iranian influence in parts of the Middle East.

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