Monday 22 October 2012

Violence erupts in Beirut after intelligence chief’s funeral

Angry mob opposed to the government began protest in central Beirut, on Sunday, moving towards the Lebanese prime minister's office and clashed with security forces after a funeral for the nation's intelligence chief.

Protesters hurled sticks, stones and flags. Tear gas was fired and gunshots were heard. A number of injuries were reported in addition to cases of fainting, Lebanon's National News Agency reported.

Sunday's anti-government protests came after a series of political speeches given to the crowd gathered in Beirut's central square for the funeral for Brig. Gen Wissam al-Hassan.

"This government is responsible for the assassination of martyr Brigadier General Wissam al-Hasan and his companion martyrs, therefore, this government must leave," former Prime Minister Fouad Siniora told the crowd.

A mob surged from the central square toward the prime minister's office, growing in number and in intensity. Dozens rushed toward police lines.

Later, in a television interview, Siniora said using violence to attempt to enter the government building was unacceptable.

Prime Minister Najib Mikati, a billionaire supported by Syrian ally Hezbollah, announced on Saturday that he planned to stay in power, despite having offered his resignation to appease those who claimed Syrian President Bashar al-Assad was behind Friday's car bombing that killed al-Hassan.

"To hold me personally responsible for the assassination is unfair," he told reporters Saturday. "I have always respected and admired al-Hassan, who has done great things for Lebanon."

Critics have said Mikati and other Lebanese officials are too close to the Syrian regime.

Some politicians had called for a day of rage Sunday, two days after the most high-profile assassination in Lebanon in more than seven years. Others, including speakers at the funeral, had urged crowds to remain peaceful.

Al-Hassan and two others died in Friday's car bombing.

Some Lebanese political leaders have called for a day of protests as accusations over who's responsible homed in on the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad.

The attack in broad daylight, at one of the capital's busiest intersections left a crater more than a meter deep.

Syria condemned the blasts very quickly after they happened on Friday.

Al-Hassan was despised by the pro-Assad Lebanese Shiite movement Hezbollah, pro-Syrian Lebanese parties and the Syrian government.

He was aligned with the March 14 movement, the anti-Syrian regime coalition that emerged after Hariri's assassination in 2005. That movement was key in forcing the withdrawal of Syrian troops, which had long occupied neighboring Lebanon and pulled out months after Hariri was killed.

Al-Hassan's killing brought a sense of deja vu to Lebanese, recalling the 2005 assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, which triggered the end of Syria's occupation of Lebanon, and the turmoil that followed.

Al-Hassan spearheaded investigations of Hariri's death and a series of killings that targeted major anti-Syrian political figures.

He had worked closely with the UN Special Tribunal for Lebanon investigating the Hariri assassination. He had survived two assassination attempts, including one that killed an official getting evidence in Hariri's killing.

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