Monday, 21 May 2012

Lebanese protest after funeral of slain sheikh

Lebanese Sunni Muslim gunmen hold up their rifles as they mourn the death of Sheikh Ahmed Abdul Wahid, a Sunni Muslim cleric, during his funeral at his hometown at al-Bireh, northern Lebanon, 21 May 2012. (Photo: Reuters – Mohamed Azakir)
Published Monday, May 21, 2012

Thousands of people attended the funeral of a leading Lebanese sheikh on Monday, with many involved in an anti-military protest after the burial in Akkar.

Mourners fired guns in the air and held up anti-Syrian flags as they vented their anger at the killing of Sheikh Ahmad Abdel-Wahad.

Abdel-Wahad was killed on Sunday by the Lebanese military after the car he was traveling in failed to stop at a checkpoint.

His death set off a series of clashes on Sunday including in the capital Beirut and Al-Akhbar correspondent Robert Abdallah said the atmosphere at Monday's funeral was hostile to the military.
He added that the army had withdrawn from the area ahead of the funeral in an attempt to prevent clashes.

"There were thousands of people including (Future Movement secretary-general) Ahmad Hariri and representatives of Samir Geagea and Amin Gemayel," he said.

"It was like a trial for the soldiers that killed Sheikh Ahmad Abdel-Wahad."

Police commander Major General Ashraf Rifi toured the neighborhood on Monday and told reporters that "things will be getting better," but authorities are believed to have braced themselves for further clashes on Monday evening.

Elsewhere a leading politician demanded the commander of the Lebanese military step down after a prominent anti-Syrian sheikh was shot dead on Sunday.

Future Bloc MP Mouein Merabi called on Jean Kahwaji to resign in the wake of the killing of Abdel-Wahad.

"We want the commander of the army (Kahwaji) to step down or we call on the president to take away his title," he told LBC on Monday.

The army has since promised an investigation into the killings, with a number of soldiers expected to be questioned in the coming days.

However Merabi dismissed an investigation into the killing, saying that it would not be independent.
"We do not trust the investigations because the party which committed this act is the same one carrying out the investigations."

Also on Monday a special meeting of the Mufti Council was held in the presence of Prime Minister Najib Mikati but boycotted by former PM Fouad Siniora.

After the meeting Mufti Mohammed Ali al-Jouzou read out a statement from the Council that called for justice for those who killed the sheikh, but stopped short of calling for Kahwaji's resignation.
"The assassination of Sheikh Abdel-Wahad and his companion is more than just an accident – it is the embodiment of strife," he said.

"The officials must bear the consequences of what's happened and of what will happen in the future."
He said the Council's sympathies went out to the people of Akkar but he called on them to avoid further violence. "The council calls on Akkar citizens to remain rational and not to lose control."

Former prime minister Fouad Siniora, a member of the opposition March 14 coalition, boycotted the meeting as conditions he had set regarding the Mufti Council's position on the role of Syria in Lebanon had not been met.

The United Nations Special Coordinator for Lebanon Derek Plumbly also urged all sides to avoid a return to violence.

“It is important that there be no further repetition of such violence and that the incidents that have occurred be fully and thoroughly investigated,” he said on Monday.

Russia's Foreign Ministry also called for calm, saying Lebanese politicians should show restraint.
“Moscow is seriously concerned over the rise of public discontent in Lebanon…we are calling on Lebanese politicians to show restraint and high patriotic responsibility in this uneasy moment both for the country and for the region,” the Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
(Al-Akhbar, AP)
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