Protesters Try to Storm Lebanese Govt. After Funeral

Posted October 21st, 2012 at 10:20 am (UTC-5)
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Hundreds of Lebanese security forces fired their weapons into the air and lobbed volleys of tear gas at a small group of protesters as they tried to storm the central Beirut offices of Prime Minister Najib Mikati, demanding he quit over the assassination of a top intelligence official.

Live television images Sunday showed the army using military vehicles and troops to block roads and protect Mr. Mikati's office. The soldiers and the protesters, many waving flags from the anti-Syrian Future Movement – a mainly Sunni Muslim party – appear to be locked in a stand-off.

The chaotic scene in the Lebanese capital followed a public funeral for Brig. Gen. Wissam al-Hassan, killed along with seven others in a car bombing Friday that many blame on the government in neighboring Syria.

Thousands of Lebanese had gathered in Beirut's Martyrs' Square for the funeral. Soldiers had set up road blocks and cordoned off the area into which Hassan's coffin, draped in a Lebanese flag, was brought for burial.

Lebanon's former Prime Minister Saad Hariri had urged citizens to attend the ceremony. Tensions have been high in Lebanon following the assault.

Mr. Hariri and opposition leader Walid Jumblatt have both accused Syrian President Bashar al-Assad of being behind the blast. Prime Minister Najib Mikati's government is supported by Lebanon's pro-Syrian Hezbollah militia.

In Paris, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius also pointed to a Damascus connection, telling French television, “We don't yet know exactly who is behind this but everything indicates that this is an extension of the Syrian tragedy.”

“I think this is a part of what is happening in Syria and shows again how the departure of Bashar al-Assad is urgent,'' Fabius added.

After an emergency Cabinet session on Saturday, Prime Minister Mikati said he had offered to resign in the wake of the deadly bombing, but Lebanon's President Michel Suleiman had asked him to stay.

Hassan had led an investigation into a recent bomb plot that resulted in the arrest of a pro-Syrian Lebanese politician. He also led a probe that implicated Syria and Hezbollah in the truck bomb killing of former prime minister Rafik Hariri in 2005. Hassan will be buried next to Hariri in Martyrs' Square.

Lebanon has seen a recent increase in violence related to the Syrian civil war that has spilled over the border.