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Last Updated: Tuesday, 23 January 2007, 15:06 GMT
Q&A: Lebanon opposition protests
Hezbollah supporter taking part in anti-government protests
Hezbollah supporters have paralysed Beirut with protests
As a fresh round of political confrontation in Lebanon erupts into violent protests, BBC Middle East analyst Roger Hardy answers questions about the crisis.

How did this political crisis come about?

The Shia group Hezbollah wants to reap the political dividends from what it regards as its victory against Israel in the month-long war last summer.

But although it enjoys considerable grass-roots support among Lebanese Shia (the country's biggest community), many Lebanese fear it is already too powerful and has become a "state within a state".

What do Hezbollah and its allies want?

The current government of Fuad Siniora is Western-backed and anti-Syrian.

Hezbollah, an ally of both Syria and Iran, wants a government in which it would hold the power of veto.

Many believe it also wants to withhold Lebanese co-operation from the UN investigation into the assassination in 2005 of the former Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri - in which Syria is suspected of involvement.

Can the government resist the pressure?

So far, the result of the Hezbollah-led campaign has been political gridlock. The government has been weakened but not toppled.

One problem for Hezbollah is that it doesn't want to be accused of resorting to violence in pursuit of its political goals - and hence of reviving the 15-year civil war which ended in 1990.

How serious is Lebanon's economic crisis?

The country has not recovered from last summer's ruinous war between Hezbollah and Israel.

It badly needs international economic assistance, and is counting on that materialising at a donors' meeting in Paris on 25 January.

The government is hoping to get mostly grants and soft loans, to help curb a ballooning debt of $40bn (20.2bn) - approximately 158% of GDP.

What are the regional dimensions to the crisis?

Behind Hezbollah stand Syria and Iran. Behind the Siniora government stand the United States, France and Saudi Arabia.

Hezbollah accuses the government of being a stooge of the West.

The government's supporters retort that a victory for Hezbollah would be a victory for Iran, whose growing regional influence is already causing alarm in both Western and Arab capitals.


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