Violence erupts at funeral of assassinated military chief
THE state funeral in Beirut of an assassinated Lebanese intelligence chief ended in violence yesterday as angry mourners broke away and tried to storm the offices of prime minister Najib Mikati, prompting security forces to shoot in the air and fire tear gas to repulse them.
The clashes fed into a growing political crisis in Lebanon linked to the civil war in neighbouring Syria.
Opposition leaders and their supporters accuse Syria of being behind the car bombing that killed Brigadier General Wissam al-Hassan on Friday and say Mr Mikati is too close to Syrian president Bashar al-Assad and his Lebanese ally Hezbollah, which is part of Mr Mikati’s government.
Thousands turned out in central Beirut’s Martyrs’ Square for Gen Hassan’s funeral, which also served as a political rally. The violence erupted after an opposition leader demanded that Mr Mikati step down to pave the way for talks on the crisis.
A group marched to the prime minister’s office, then overturned barriers, pulled apart barbed wire coils and threw stones, steel rods and bottles at soldiers and police.
Security forces responded by shooting into the air and firing teargas, forcing the protesters to scatter. Opposition leader Saad al-Hariri urged supporters to refrain from any more violence.
“We want peace, the government should fall but we want that in a peaceful way. I call on all those who are in the streets to pull back,” Mr Hariri told supporters after the attack.
However, as night fell groups of youths blocked the road to the international airport with piles of burning tyres. The highway to Sidon was also cut off.
The killing of Brig Gen Hassan and the subsequent events have highlighted how the 19-month-old uprising against Mr Assad in Syria has exacerbated deep-seated sectarian tensions in Lebanon, which is still scarred from its 1975-90 civil war.
Sunni-led rebels are fighting to overthrow Mr Assad, who is from the Alawite minority, which has its roots in Shiite Islam. Lebanon’s religious communities are divided between those that support Mr Assad and those that back the rebels.
Brig Gen Hassan, 47, was a Sunni Muslim and senior intelligence official who had helped uncover a bomb plot that led to the arrest and indictment in August of a pro-Assad former Lebanese minister. He also led an investigation that implicated Syria and the Shiite Hezbollah in the assassination of Lebanon’s former prime minister Rafik al-Hariri in 2005.
Mourners at Martyrs’ Square accused Syria of involvement in the killing and called for Mr Mikati to quit.
The violence broke out after Fouad al-Siniora, a former prime minister, said the opposition rejected any dialogue to overcome the political crisis caused by Gen Hassan’s killing unless the government first resigned.
“No talks before the government leaves, no dialogue over the blood of our martyrs,” Mr Siniora said to roars of approval from the crowd.
At the start of the funeral, senior politicians and the military top brass turned out at the Internal Security Force headquarters for a ceremony held with full military honours and broadcast live on national television.
Brig Gen Hassan’s wife and two sons, the youngest weeping, listened as he was eulogised by the head of police, Ashraf Rifi, and president Michel Suleiman.
Mr Suleiman said the government and people must work “shoulder to shoulder” to overcome the challenges posed by the killing.
Search for a job
Search for a car
Search for a house
Weather for Edinburgh
Saturday 25 May 2013
Temperature: 6 C to 17 C
Wind Speed: 13 mph
Wind direction: West
Temperature: 9 C to 16 C
Wind Speed: 14 mph
Wind direction: South west