Anger erupts as Lebanon mourns Beirut bomb victims

Protesters have taken to the streets in Beirut following Friday's blast

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A day of national mourning has been held in Lebanon amid opposition protests over a massive car bombing a day earlier in Beirut.

The dead included internal intelligence chief Wissam al-Hassan, who was close to the anti-Syrian opposition.

Protesters have been blocking roads in Beirut and other cities. The opposition blames Damascus for Friday's attack.

PM Najib Mikati offered to resign, but President Michel Suleiman has asked him to stay on in the national interest.

Analysis

Syria's brutal civil war is already being played out on the streets of Tripoli, the northern Lebanese city where pro-Syrian (Alawite) and Sunni anti-Assad factions have fought fierce gun battles on at least two occasions this year.

One of General Wissam al-Hassan's most high-profile recent moves was the uncovering of an alleged plot that led to the arrest of a former minister, Michel Samaha.

He was detained on charges of collaborating with members of the Syrian government to import explosives and launch attacks in Lebanon.

It would, so the argument goes, suit the purposes of the Assad government to "export" its civil war to Lebanon - a warning to those who are calling for Assad's removal that wider regional conflict would be the only outcome if the regime in Damascus was to fall.

The announcement came after the cabinet held an emergency meeting on Saturday.

Mr Mikati said he had agreed to remain in his post, adding that Lebanon needed to remain unified, strong and secure.

Officials later said Friday's car bombing had left three people dead - revising the death toll down from eight. More than 80 people were wounded.

The blast occurred in a busy street in Beirut's mainly Christian district of Ashrafiya, creating widespead destruction.

No group has said it carried out the attack. Mr Hassan - described by officials as the main target - had close links with opposition leader Saad Hariri, a leading critic of the government in neighbouring Syria.

Mr Hassan led an investigation that implicated Damascus in the 2005 bombing that killed Mr Hariri's father, former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

He also recently organised the arrest of a former minister accused of planning a Syrian-sponsored bombing campaign in Lebanon.

Opposition supporters have set up roadblocks and burnt tyres in Beirut, denouncing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his Lebanese allies.

Similar protests are being held in Sidon in the south, Tripoli in the north and in the Bekaa Valley in the east.

Wissam al-Hassan

  • Head of the intelligence branch of Lebanon's Internal Security Forces
  • Sunni Muslim born in the northern city of Tripoli in 1965
  • Responsible for the security of former PM Rafik Hariri
  • Viewed as being close to the Hariris and the opposition 14 March coalition
  • Responsible for the August arrest of pro-Syrian politician and ex-information minister Michel Samaha

Saad Hariri has urged people to turn out in large numbers for Wissam Hassan's funeral in Beirut on Sunday.

'Guarantor of security'

Tension in Lebanon has been rising as a result of the Syrian conflict.

"We accuse Bashar al-Assad of the assassination of Wissam al-Hassan, the guarantor of the security of the Lebanese," Mr Hariri said on Lebanese TV.

Druze leader Walid Jumblatt told satellite channel Al-Arabiya: "[Bashar al-Assad] is telling us that even though he turned Syria into rubble, 'I am ready to kill in any place.'"

Nadim Gemayel, an MP from the right-wing Christian Phalange Party, also pointed to Syria, where the 18-month old uprising against Mr Assad has turned increasingly violent.

Scene of car-bomb blast in east Beirut, 19 October Friday's blast tore through the Beirut neighbourhood of Ashrafiya

"This regime, which is crumbling, is trying to export its conflict to Lebanon," he said.

Mr Hariri's 14 March bloc issued a statement accusing the Beirut government of protecting "criminals" and calling on it to stand down.

Mr Mikati said the government was trying to identify the perpetrators and they would be punished.

Lebanon's Shia militant group Hezbollah - a close ally of the Syrian government - condemned the bombing.

Syrian Information Minister Omran al-Zoubi called it a "cowardly, terrorist act". He said such incidents were "unjustifiable wherever they occur".

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