- Wednesday December 13 2006
Speaking to the Guardian, Gen Aoun said the largely Shia and Christian coalition, which is headed by Hizbullah, was preparing to ratchet up the pressure with unspecified acts of civil disobedience.
"This is not a game, we have had enough of political manoeuvring ... we have the people, we are the real leaders of the Lebanese people, we can double the numbers on the streets any time."
Gen Aoun addressed hundreds of thousands of supporters who had gathered near the government buildings in central Beirut last weekend in what the army described as the largest demonstration in Lebanon's history.
The former prime minister has accused the Siniora government of being corrupt and unrepresentative. He is calling on ministers to agree to a financial audit and face prosecution if found guilty of misappropriating state funds.
"I don't consider these as requests. Fighting corruption is the demand of the people ... but it might be a problem for some in government as they may see themselves targeted by this," he said.
Mr Siniora's embattled government is urging negotiations, but Gen Aoun has given the government days to accept the inclusion of opposition ministers in the cabinet or face undisclosed measures that could include strikes, disruptions of public office and mass parliamentary resignations.
The Arab League secretary general, Amr Mussa, arrived in Beirut yesterday to meet leaders from both sides in the hope of negotiating a way out of the deadlock. Talks are expected to focus on a UN-proposed international tribunal to try Lebanese and Syrian security personnel accused of murdering the former prime minister Rafik Hariri in February 2005, and government demands for early presidential elections to depose the country's president, Emile Lahoud - a close ally of Damascus.
Independent polls suggest that Gen Aoun, who waged a 15-year campaign to drive Syrian forces out of Lebanon, is the favourite candidate for president with around 45% of the national vote, but he is unpopular with some pro-government forces who are loath to see him back in power.
His detractors accuse him of seeking to block the formation of the international tribunal to try to protect Damascus and secure Syrian backing for his presidency.
"We are not with Syria, and we are not with Iran," Gen Aoun said. "I am for the tribunal. I was the first one who demanded it, but we, as MPs, have not been shown a draft. We need to make sure it doesn't violate Lebanese law before signing off on it."
As the US secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, warned of a Syrian attempt "to bring down the Siniora government using or supporting extremist forces", Gen Aoun cautioned that the west's unwavering support for the Siniora government was alienating large swathes of the Lebanese public.
"They should not take sides. They should support the entire Lebanese people, not some of them ... it is turning more of the public against them."
The former general dismissed speculation - prompted by violent skirmishes between Sunnis and Shias in recent days - of a return to civil war, but expressed fears of violence from government supporters, accusing the current leadership of protecting "mercenaries" and instigating the clashes.
He said pro-government forces linked to a largely Sunni controlled division within the internal security services played a part in the recent killing of a 20-year-old Shia protester who was shot in the back on Monday night as he passed through a Sunni neighbourhood.
Gen Aoun came under fire from both friends and critics for his decision to side with Hizbullah, an ally of Damascus, earlier this year.
But he insists he remains a steadfast opponent of Syrian interference and fears the recent thaw in relations between Damascus and Washington may allow Syria, which controlled Lebanon for 15 years before withdrawing under popular and international pressure last year, to again play a hand in Lebanese affairs.
"We fear that if America concludes a deal, they will allow Syria back into Lebanon, which we oppose."
Gen Aoun said his partnership with Hizbullah was born out of a shared commitment to fighting corruption, and to political reforms aimed at strengthening the state.
"Sometimes we agree, sometimes we don't, but our agreement is our guarantee that Syria will not return."
He said he supported UN resolution 1559, which calls for the disarmament of Hizbullah, but proposes a strategy of government-controlled civilian mobilisation to compensate for the weakness of the army in the event of an attack on Lebanon.