Army puts the lid on sectarian protests

An uneasy calm prevails in Lebanon after the army warned violent demonstrators seeking the exit of the Prime Minister — known for his close ties with the Syrian government — that it would act decisively to restore normality.

“We will take decisive measures, especially in areas with rising religious and sectarian tensions, to prevent Lebanon being transformed again into a place for regional settling of scores, and to prevent the assassination of the martyr Wissam al-Hassan being used to assassinate a whole country,” said an army statement. General Hassan, the country’s intelligence chief, was killed on Friday in a car bombing, triggering a wave of unrest in large parts of the country.

The General was known for his criticism of the Syrian government. The Assad regime and the Hizbollah — a staunch ally of Damascus and Tehran — have been summarily accused of masterminding the killing.

Syria’s supporters called the bombing a false-flag operation by Mossad, the Israeli intelligence agency, to unseat the government of Prime Minister Najib Miqati.

Iran has also accused Israel for the attack. Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi said the Israeli government wanted to divert attention from the embarrassment caused by a Hizbollah-operated drone entering its airspace.

The Lebanese army matched its words with action when protesters tried to storm the Prime Minister’s office after General Hassan’s funeral on Sunday. Security forces lobbed tear gas canisters and, on occasions, fired in the air to break up the protests.

The demonstrators did not get support from the five permanent members of the Security Council. Ambassadors from the United States, Russia, China, Britain and France, along with the U.N. coordinator on Lebanon, on Monday, met President Michel Suleiman to express their support for Lebanon’s stability.

“The permanent members at the United Nations call upon all the parties in Lebanon to preserve stability,” said Derek Plumbly, the U.N. representative. “We strongly condemn any attempt to shake Lebanon’s stability,” he observed, flanked by the five envoys.

The country’s top religious leaders have also appealed for calm.

Lebanon’s Grand Mufti Sheikh Mohammad Rashid Qabbani said protesters cannot topple the Cabinet by taking to the streets. “Attempts to storm the Grand Serail are rejected at all times. Toppling cabinets in the street is totally rejected,” said Sheikh Qabbani in a televised speech.

While the threat of violent protests from Beirut streets seemed to abate, peaceful demonstrations targeting the government could continue.

Former Prime Minister Fouad Siniora has urged protesters to demonstrate peacefully, but refrain from resorting to violence.

Army stops protestors from entering PM’s office

U.N. permanent members call for stability

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