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Hizbullah backers protest, KFC outlet fired at in Lebanon

Following calls by Hizbullah's leader earlier this week for demonstrations across Lebanon in response to anti-Islam film, thousands protest in Tyre against the backdrop of newly published prophet cartoons

AFP , Wednesday 19 Sep 2012
Female supporters of Lebanon's Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah shout slogans and carry banners at protest against a film made in US mocking Prophet Mohammad, in Tyre, southern Lebanon, Wednesday (Photo: Reuters)
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Thousands of supporters of the Shia Hizbullah movement protested Wednesday in the southern Lebanese city of Tyre against a US-made film mocking Islam and cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed. Hours earlier gunmen fired at a KFC restaurant in Nabatiyeh.

"America, America, you are the great satan!" and "Israel is the enemy of the Muslims!" chanted protesters as they poured onto the streets of Tyre.

Protesters carried posters saying: "We sacrifice ourselves for you, O messenger of God," "All our problems are from America," and "Muslims and Christians in defence of the prophet's dignity."

Wednesday's protest came after Hizbullah leader Hassan Nasrallah Monday called for demonstrations across Lebanon following the spread of an anti-Islam film, Innocence of Muslims, on the Internet, saying it was "the worst attack ever on Islam."

Most demonstrators travelled to Tyre from nearby villages in south Lebanon, much of which was destroyed by a deadly war with Israel in 2006.

Support for Hizbullah in this war-battered region is near-total, with the majority of its residents Shia.

Wednesday's protest were being held against the backdrop of the publication by a French weekly of cartoons of a naked Prophet Mohammed.

The film triggered violent protests across the Muslim world, with 30 people killed in unrest over the past week, including one who died in clashes with security forces in Lebanon.

Addressing the crowd in Tyre, Hizbullah executive bureau member Nabil Qaouq warned the US and France against entering into a confrontation with the Muslim world.

"O Americans, it is better for you to take a step back, and not to get stuck in an all-out confrontation with the Islamic ummah (nation)," said Qaouq.

"France has also chosen to take a position of animosity against the ummah," he said. Both countries should "be aware of the Muslim ummah's rage, because it is capable of doing anything to defend the dignity of the messenger of God."

"I am ready to sacrifice my blood, my daughter and my money for the prophet," protester Mohammed Hallawi told AFP, adding he would like to see non-Shias join the protests too.

Lebanon's Sunni Muslim cleric Ahmed Al-Assir has called for a demonstration in downtown Beirut Friday to protest what he described as "attacks on Muslims."

Hours before demonstrators flooded the streets of Tyre, gunmen opened fire on a KFC fast-food restaurant, just days after another one was torched, a security official said.

The attack occurred at dawn in the southern city of Nabatiyeh. The US chain's restaurant was not open at the time and no one was reported hurt.

On Monday, the United States updated its travel warning for Lebanon and suspended grants to Americans wishing to study in the country.

And on Wednesday the French embassy sent a mobile phone text message to citizens in Lebanon, urging them to be cautious.

"Be careful of your movements and stay away from large gatherings" and buildings that might be the site of protests, especially on Friday, the embassy said.

The Lebanese army has also stepped up security measures to protect the French ambassador's residence in Beirut, while an AFP correspondent in the southern city of Sidon said an army unit was deployed around the French cultural centre and armed guards posted at the gates.

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