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Pro and anti Assad demonstrations in downtown Beirut square

Lebanese Salafists call upon Syria president Al-Assad to step down and stop the bloodshed in a demonstration that had a bigger than expected turnout

Yasser Seddiq, Monday 5 Mar 2012
Fadel Shaker
Fadel Shaker Joins Salafist Demo in Beirut (Photo: Naharnet)
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Lebanon passed a security test on Sunday as many observers expected that the day's outcome would be severe for the country. There were fears that Martyrs Square in Beirut would be a battlefield between two rival blocks; one supporting the Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad and the other against the Assad regime.

According to London daily Al-Hayat newspaper, the anti-Assad demonstration was organised by Salafist Sheikh Ahmed Al-Assir, imam of Sidon’s Bilal bin Rabah Mosque and turnout was higher than expected, whereas the pro-regime demonstration took place under the leadership of Lebanon's Baath Arab Socialist Party leader Fayez Shukr. Downtown Beirut was blocked as the Lebanese Army and police created a buffer zone between the two blocks due to mounting concerns that Martyrs Square might become the scene of fierce clashes.

Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri praised rival political parties Hezbollah and the Future Movement for refraining from taking part in the pro and anti-Syrian regime demonstrations in Beirut on Sunday. “This shows a high level of patriotism aimed at preventing strife and forms an important pillar that can be built upon,” Berri told the Lebanese daily As-Safir newspaper on Monday.

Most of the Salafists that attended the anti-Assad demonstration came from Sidon including Fadel Shaker, a Lebanese pop star turned outspoken supporter of Salafism and the radical Muslim cleric Omar Bakri, the pan-Arab daily Al-Hayat newspaper reported.

Shaker called all artists to support the people of Syria saying, “Why didn't you take part in such demonstrations, haven’t you seen the massacres and the killings of children, people are being slaughtering  in Homs, Daraa, Deir al-Zour and other regions?”

Sheikh Ahmed Al-Assir said "there are thousands of victims, homeless, sick and evicted people in the besieged city of Homs, then we are asked why did we gather?"

"Bashar Al-Assad was right but he was mendacious twice," Sheikh Al-Assir said. "He was right when he said Syria is not similar to others, and this was right as the developments in Syria have dropped the masks that permanently deceived us. The second time that he was right was when he said it is an international conspiracy against Syria, and this was also right as it is exactly an international conspiracy against the people of Syria not its regime and this is what we said from the beginning. And this is why the international community announces that there will be no military intervention in Syria as more people are killed in the besieged cities."         

More than one hundred meters way from Martyr's Square, about 300 people of Al-Ba'ath party supporters and allying parties alongside Syrian workers were gathering to show support for the Al-Assad regime.

Lebanon's political scene is split with the country's main political blocs – the March 8 coalition led by Hezbollah and the March 14 coalition – taking opposite positions in relation to Syria's uprising. Hezbollah remains close to the Assad regime, although this has caused dissent in its ranks, while the March 14 coalition has announced support for the uprising.  These positions are determined by and deepen an already divided domestic political scene in Lebanon.

Prominent Druze leader Walid Jumblatt, close to Syria in the past, has recently begun calling on Al-Assad to step down.

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