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Beirut protests end in violence after funeral

Monday, 22 October 2012 - 3:42pm IST | Agency: Daily Telegraph
Gunfire echoed in Beirut's streets on Sunday as protesters tried to storm the Lebanese prime minister's office after an emotional funeral for the country's assassinated spy chief triggered a wave of anti-Syrian anger.

Gunfire echoed in Beirut's streets on Sunday as protesters tried to storm the Lebanese prime minister's office after an emotional funeral for the country's assassinated spy chief triggered a wave of anti-Syrian anger.

The violence began at the end of what had been billed as a protest against Syrian meddling in Lebanon, focused on Prime Minister Najib Mikati, who is seen as an ally of Damascus. As the funeral for Brigadier General Wissam al-Hassan ended, Nadim Koteich, the presenter of a popular Lebanese television show, grabbed the microphone and shouted, "Mikati will fall down today! We must go to the serail [prime minister's office]."

Within minutes, an estimated 200 people thronged the nearby offices, shouting "Down with Mikati!"

Rioters launched wooden flag staffs at security forces as mobs attacked police cars. Security forces responded with tear gas grenades and shot rounds into the sky as bodyguards scrambled to take politicians who had been at the funeral to safety.

During the funeral, Fuad Siniora, a former prime minister, called on Mikati to resign. "If you stay, it means you agree with what happened and what will happen," he said.

President Michel Suleiman and other government leaders have urged Mikati to stay in his post, fearing a political vacuum that would add to the instability.

The opposition has accused the Syrian Government of being behind the attack, as it did in 2005 when a bomb killed Rafiq Hariri, the former prime minister, in Beirut.

General Hassan had investigated Hariri's assassination, implicating Hizbollah and Damascus. In August, his intelligence operatives apprehended Michel Samaha, a former information minister, who was arrested for smuggling explosives from Damascus to use in bomb attacks in Lebanon.

General Hassan had received death threats and his family were living in Paris to avoid being targeted.

"His assassination was executed in the same way as Hariri's," a friend of General Hassan told The Daily Telegraph. "They identified three places, cars and routes that he might have used that day and plotted attacks against all three."

After a solemn military farewell at the headquarters of the Internal Security Forces, General Hassan's body and that of his driver were transported to the funeral.

An uncomfortable coalition of Lebanon's different political, religious and rebel factions watched from the crowd. All sides stamped and spat on posters of Bashar al-Assad, calling for an end to Syrian meddling in Lebanese politics, including, they said, the disarmament of the pro-Syrian Hizbollah.

"We will increase the violence if today does not work. We didn't want war, it is them, Hizbollah, that has started the war. We will shut down the country," said Khaled, 27.
 




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