Clashes in Beirut as security chief mourners attempt to storm govt HQ (PHOTOS, VIDEO)
Heavy gunfire was heard in Beirut on Sunday as hundreds of mourners, after attending the funeral for official Wissam al-Hassan, tried to storm the Grand Serail, the seat of the government and prime minister.
Police and soldiers had to fire machine guns and rifles into the air and lobbed volleys of teargas as the angry crowd tried to reach their destination.
"Mikati leave, get out!" chanted the demonstrators addressing Prime Minister Najib Mikati. The protesters believe the government are too close to Syria, which they blame for the death of al-Hassan.
Several protesters got injured clashing with security forces, reports the Lebanese news outlet Naharnet.
The unrest wound down after several opposition and spiritual leaders called on the protesters "to express their demands peacefully," adding that the Grand Serail was "a red line." The building was eventually cordoned off by security forces.
Before the march to the Grand Serail, thousands of mourners clad in black marched the streets, carrying pictures of al-Hassan and chanting anti-Syrian slogans.
The opposition called for Sunday to be a “day of rage” against the “butcher Bashar Assad and the black regime that rules Syria.”
“As soon as the assassination took place, immediately afterwards there were some political accusations against Syria and Hezbollah of being responsible for the assassination, also an investigation has not really started,” political analyst, Omar Nashabe, told RT.
“This has been a trend in Lebanon,” the analyst said, “this kind of rush to use the outcome for political purposes, and accusations based on political interests, not based on the findings of an independent judicial body."
Lebanese authorities stepped up the security presence in the capital, cordoning off the city’s central square. The leader of opposition group the Future Movement, Saad Hariri, called on as many people as possible to attend the funeral for al-Hassan, who “protected [Lebanon] from the plots of Bashar al-Assad.”
Lebanese policemen clash with angry mourners who are preparing to storm the Lebanese government offices after the funeral of slain intelligence officer Wissam al-Hassan in Beirut October 21, 2012. (Reuters)
Al-Hassan perished in a car bomb blast that ripped through the Ashrafiyeh district of the Lebanese capital, killing seven others and injuring over 80 people. Hassan was 47 and the head of the intelligence section of Lebanon’s internal security forces.
The attack sparked ire from the Lebanese public, triggering protests throughout the country with activists blocking roads with flaming tires and denouncing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Syria denied any role.
“It seems unlikely that Assad’s government directly want to be involved in this because it is all too easy to put a finger on them,” said Mark Almond, Oxford historian and visiting professor of international relations for Bilkent University in Turkey.
Lebanese policemen clash with angry mourners who tried to enter the Lebanese government offices after the funeral of slain intelligence officer Wissam al-Hassan in Beirut October 21, 2012. (Reuters)
PM Mikati offered to step down to placate protesters but his offer was denied by the Lebanese President Michel Sleiman.
"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 who is a member of the right-wing Phalange Party, to AFP. He stress that protesters would not leave until Mikati’s government resigns.
Mikati intimated that the attack could have been linked to former Lebanese Minister Michael Samaha, who was recently jailed over suspected of planning bomb attacks to further exacerbate sectarian rifts in Lebanon.
"After the discovery of explosives, logic dictates that the two cases are related," he said.
Samaha was taken into custody in August for reportedly transporting explosives from Syria to Lebanon to be used in terrorist attacks in an investigation headed by Wissam al-Hassan.
Hassan also played in a significant role in the investigation of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri’s assassination in 2005. The Sunni leader was killed in a truck bomb attack that triggered the Cedar Revolution and the expulsion of the Syrian army from Lebanon after 30 years of occupation.
Angry protesters attempt to storm the Lebanese government offices after the funeral of slain intelligence officer Wissam al-Hassan in Beirut October 21, 2012. (Reuters)
Lebanese society has seen itself fragmented by the Syrian conflict as the countries Sunni Muslims get behind the rebels and the Shiites offer their support to President Assad.
The security official who was assassinated was a Sunni Muslim who opposed Assad and the regime’s strongest ally in Lebanon, the Shiite group Hezbollah.
“This has to stop at some point, otherwise we’re probably heading for a very difficult and chaotic time in Lebanon,” warns political analyst Kamel al Wazne. “This will lead to the destruction of the country and in the end everybody will lose.”
The coffins of top intelligence chief General Wissam al-Hassan and his bodyguard, arrive to downtown Beirut on October 21, 2012. (AFP Photo / Joseph Eid)
People gather holding flags as members of the Internal Security Forces carry the coffin of slain intelligence officer Wissam al-Hassan in Martyrs' Square in downtown Beirut. (Reuters / Jamal Saidi )
Supportors of the March 14 movement, which opposes the Syrian regime of President Bashar al-Assad, storm the govermental palace in Beirut after the funeral of top intelligence chief General Wissam al-Hassan and his bodyguard, in downtown Beirut, on October 21, 2012. (AFP Photo / Joseph Eid)
Lebanese policemen clash with angry mourners who were trying to storm the Lebanese government offices after the funeral of slain intelligence officer Wissam al-Hassan in Beirut October 21, 2012. (Reuters)
A supporters of the March 14 movement, which opposes the Syrian regime of President Bashar al-Assad, recovers from tear gas inhalation in downtown Beirut, on October 21, 2012. (AFP Photo / Joseph Eid)
Supporters of the March 14 movement, which opposes the Syrian regime of President Bashar al-Assad, run away from tear gas canister fired by security guards in downtown Beirut, on October 21, 2012. (AFP Photo / Joseph Eid)