BEIRUT -- Prime Minister Fuad Saniora yesterday accused Hezbollah's leader of threatening a coup as the Shi'ite guerrilla group escalated its attempts to oust the government.
Saniora spoke to hundreds of supporters in his fortified office, where he has lived for more than a week.
Outside, pro-Hezbollah demonstrators in a nearby square replayed on loudspeakers a Thursday night speech in which their leader, Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, accused the prime minister of siding with Israel during the July- August war.
The unusually harsh exchange between the two rivals further stoked tensions, although both leaders said they remain willing to negotiate.
Saniora said Nasrallah "is threatening a coup and his statements carry all the seeds of dissension and threat."
Saniora criticized the Hezbollah leader for his attitude in the speech, in which Nasrallah accused the prime minister of being stubborn and said members of the government were responsible for the war, which began after Hezbollah seized two Israeli soldiers.
"Who appointed you to say 'I am right and all else is false'?" Saniora asked.
The prime minister, who has received strong Western and Arab support, repeated that Hezbollah's protests, now in their eighth day, would not force his resignation. The pro-Syrian Hezbollah and its opposition allies have called for a huge demonstration tomorrow, saying it will mark an escalation in their attempts to oust the US-backed premier.
Hezbollah and its allies began demonstrating after Saniora rejected their demands for a third of the Cabinet's seats -- an effective veto.
Six pro-Hezbollah ministers resigned from the Cabinet last month over Saniora's refusal to accept the demand, depriving the government of any Shi'ite representation.
The political division has taken dangerous sectarian lines, with most Sunni Muslims supporting the Sunni prime minister and Shi'ites backing Hezbollah. Christian factions are split between the two camps.
Hezbollah has not said what it plans to do next, but some Lebanese believe it might call for civil disobedience or escalate street protests, disrupting vital utilities such as Beirut airport. So far Nasrallah has stressed that his supporters demonstrate peacefully.