Valdosta Daily Times

National, International News

October 22, 2012

Funeral for slain Lebanon official ends in clashes

BEIRUT — Lebanese security forces unleashed a barrage of gunfire and tear gas in central Beirut on Sunday to disperse hundreds of protesters trying to storm the government headquarters after the funeral of a top Lebanese intelligence official killed by a car bomb.

The speedy ignition of the protests demonstrated the flammability of the country’s divisive and sectarian politics. The protesters blamed the assassination on the government of neighboring Syria and consider Lebanon’s current government to be too close to that embattled regime.

Many also chanted against Hezbollah, the Lebanese militant group that dominates the government and serves as the Damascus regime’s closest Lebanese ally.

As the battle raged, with protesters and security personnel pelting each other with hunks of concrete, metal bars and tear gas canisters, former Prime Minister Fuad Saniora appealed for calm.

“The use of violence is unacceptable and does not represent the image that we want,” Saniora said in a televised address.

Even before Friday’s bombing, the civil war in Syria had set off violence in Lebanon and deepened tensions between supporters and opponents of President Bashar Assad’s regime. The assassination has laid bare how vulnerable Lebanon is to renewed strife, threatening to shatter a fragile political balance struck after decades of civil strife — much of it linked to Syria.

Sunday’s clashes erupted after the funeral for Brig. Gen. Wissam al-Hassan, who was killed along with his body guard by a Beirut car bomb on Friday. Al-Hassan, 47, was a powerful opponent of Syria in Lebanon.

He was buried in Martyrs Square in downtown Beirut near former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, another anti-Syrian politician who was assassinated by a truck bomb in 2005.

Syria denied any role in Hariri’s killing, but outrage in Lebanon expressed in massive street protests forced Damascus to withdraw its tens of thousands of troops from the country and end nearly 30 years of military and political domination of its smaller neighbor.

The scene at Sunday’s funeral was faintly reminiscent of the huge, anti-Syria gatherings in 2005. But the crowd was far smaller than after Hariri’s death.

More than 1,000 people walked about a quarter mile from the funeral site toward the stately, hilltop government headquarters. Only a few hundred clashed with the guards, tearing down metal barricades and hitting the guards with the sticks from their flags and placards.

The guards withdrew behind a tall barricade of concertina wire, which the protesters broke through, putting them within 50 meters (yards) of government headquarters. A few guards fired shots and one plainclothes officer pulled a pistol from his belt and fired over the protesters’ heads. Then a roar of automatic gunfire erupted, sending the protesters scattering for cover.

It was unclear whether the guards fired in the air or shot blanks, but no protesters appeared to be injured.

In a telephone call with Lebanon’s Future TV, former Prime Minister Saad Hariri urged the protesters to stop their attack.

“We are peace supporters and against violence,” he said.

The security forces appeared woefully unprepared and their numbers were smaller than those usually deployed for much less contentious rallies.

After about an hour of clashes, more guards arrived, along with scores of helmet-clad commandos. They stood shoulder to shoulder across the road and blocked the protesters from advancing further.

Unrest broke out elsewhere in Lebanon, too. Protesters blocked major roads in Beirut and in the north with rows of burning tires and briefly closed the country’s main highway to the south, the national news agency said.

Clashes also broke out in the northern city of Tripoli, with residents of two neighborhoods that support opposite sides in Syria’s civil war exchanging gunfire.

Security officials have said six others were killed in the car bomb on Friday, and scores were wounded. But Lebanon’s National News Agency said on Sunday that the final toll death toll was three: al-Hassan, his guard and a civilian woman.

The discrepancy could not be explained, though security officials said the other five victims were counted based body parts found at the blast site.

Al-Hassan headed an investigation over the summer that led to the arrest of former Information Minister Michel Samaha, a Lebanese politician who was one of Syria’s most loyal allies in Lebanon.

“He was killed while he was defending his country,” said Samer al-Hirri, who traveled from northern Lebanon to attend the funeral.

France’s Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said it was likely that Assad’s government had a hand in the assassination.

“Everything suggests that it’s an extension of the Syrian tragedy,” he told Europe-1 radio.

Sunday’s protests quickly overshadowed the stately funeral for al-Hassan and his bodyguard.

Before the funeral, giant posters of al-Hassan were set up around Beirut calling him a “martyr of sovereignty and independence.”

Thousands of mourners packed central Martyrs Square as soldiers carried in two flag-draped coffins.

“We came for Lebanon’s future to show that we will not be scared,” said mourner Rama Fakhouri, an interior designer. Many chanted that al-Hassan was a “martyr” who was struck down while trying to protect Lebanon.

TV footage showed al-Hassan’s wife Anna, his young sons Majd and Mazen, and his parents, shedding tears near his coffin.

But the mood quickly changed. At one point, a Sunni cleric, Osama Rifai, gave a fiery speech, telling the crowd not to “be like women” and “take out their swords.” Lebanese journalist Nadim Qutaish also called on mourners to “storm the government headquarters.”

Both men’s comments were carried live on TV and crowds of protesters approached the government headquarters soon after.

Al-Hassan’s killing has set off a new round of political wrangling in Lebanon.

Before the clashes, Saniora called on Prime Minister Najib Mikati to resign, calling his Cabinet the “government of assassination.”

“Staying in your post means that you approve of what happened,” he said, adding that al-Hassan’s killers “had domestic help.”

Many of Lebanon’s Sunnis see Mikati’s government as too close to Syria and the Assad regime, which is dominated by the Alawites — an offshoot of Shiite Islam.

A member of Mikati’s Cabinet, Ahmad Karami, told the LBC TV station that the prime minister “is not clinging to the post but will not resign under pressure because of the chaos in the country.”

Some Lebanese see al-Hassan’s killing and Sunday’s violence as an extension of Syria’s civil war into Lebanon. While Lebanon’s Sunnis have largely backed the uprising, many others, especially Shiite Hezbollah, have stood by Assad.

For the protesters, the connection was clear.

“The Syrian regime started a war against us and we will fight this battle until the end,” said protester Anthony Labaki, a 24-year-old physiotherapist.

For years after Syria’s 2005 pullout from Lebanon, there was a string of attacks on anti-Syrian figures in the country with impunity. Assad managed to maintain his influence in Lebanon in the years afterward through Hezbollah and other allies.

Samaha, the former minister arrested in al-Hassan’s investigation, remains in custody. He is accused of plotting a wave of attacks in Lebanon at Syria’s behest.

Syrian Brig. Gen. Ali Mamlouk, one of Assad’s most senior aides, was indicted in absentia in the August sweep that saw Samaha arrested. Samaha’s arrest was an embarrassing blow to Syria, which has long acted with impunity in Lebanon.

Text Only
National, International News
  • Man said to be homesick for prison gets 3 1/2 years

    An ex-con who spent most of his adult life behind bars on Thursday got what he said he wanted for robbing a suburban Chicago bank. The 74-year-old gets to go back to the place he called home — prison.

    April 18, 2014

  • Today in History for Friday, April 18, 2014

    Today is Good Friday, April 18, the 108th day of 2014. There are 257 days left in the year.

    April 18, 2014

  • Another arrest made in kidnapping

    Another arrest was made in the kidnapping of a North Carolina prosecutor’s father, federal investigators said Thursday.
    Quantavious Thompson was taken into custody late Wednesday afternoon, FBI spokeswoman Shelley Lynch said in a statement. Details on his arrest weren’t immediately available.

    April 18, 2014

  • Boston Marathon Bombi_Rich copy.jpg Questions linger year after Boston Marathon bombs

    A surveillance video shows a man prosecutors say is Dzhokhar Tsarnaev placing a bomb near the finish line of the Boston Marathon, just yards from where an 8-year-old boy was killed when it exploded.

    April 15, 2014 1 Photo

  • AP120401029 copy.jpg Today in History for Tuesday, April 15, 2014

    Today is Tuesday, April 15, the 105th day of 2014. There are 260 days left in the year.

    April 15, 2014 1 Photo

  • Space Station_Rich copy.jpg NASA OKs space station visit despite dead computer

    NASA is pressing ahead with Monday’s planned launch of a supply ship despite a critical computer outage at the International Space Station, promising the situation is safe.

    April 14, 2014 1 Photo

  • Fatal Shooting Kansas_Rich copy.jpg 3 dead after suburban Kansas City shooting

    A man opened fire outside a Jewish community center on Sunday, killing two people before driving over to a retirement community a few blocks away and killing someone else, authorities said.

    April 14, 2014 1 Photo

  • Seven Dead Babies Arr_Rich(1) copy.jpg Utah woman arrested after 7 dead babies found

    A Utah woman accused of killing several babies she gave birth to over 10 years was arrested Sunday after police discovered seven tiny bodies stuffed in separate cardboard boxes in the garage of her former home.
    Megan Huntsman, 39, who lived in the Pleasant Grove home until three years ago, had the infants between 1996 and 2006, investigators said.

    April 14, 2014 1 Photo

  • AP110714053482 copy.jpg Today in History for Monday, April 14, 2014

    Today is Monday, April 14, the 104th day of 2014. There are 261 days left in the year. The Jewish holiday Passover begins at sunset.

    April 14, 2014 1 Photo

  • APTOPIX Range Showdow_Rich copy.jpg Feds release cows gathered in Nevada roundup

    Federal land managers confirmed Saturday that they released all 400 or so head of cattle rounded up on public land in southern Nevada from a rancher who has refused to recognize their authority.

    April 13, 2014 1 Photo

Top News

What you think about school and workplace rules about Facebook friends?

There have to be rules.
No need for rules, just use common sense.
If people want to be friends, what is the big deal?
Nobody uses Facebook anymore.
     View Results