Middle East
Shia protests rattle nervous Beirut
Shia clerics call on their followers to protest against 'insults' aimed at Hezbollah.
Last Modified: 24 Nov 2006 11:31 GMT

Tens of thousands of people gathered to protest against Syrian interference in Lebanon

Hundreds of Shia Lebanese have begun demonstrating in Beirut after clerics told their followers that Hasan Nasrallah, the Hezbollah leader, had been "insulted".

Earlier on Thursday, tens of thousands of Lebanese had demonstrated against Syrian interference following the burial of Pierre Gemayel, the assassinated Christian minister of industry.
The Hezbollah supporters chanted: "Nasrallah don't worry, your Shias can drink blood," as they marched to block the road leading to Beirut's airport.
The earlier anti-Syrian protests had infuriated Damascus, a backer of the Shia movement.
Hezbollah urges end to protests

However, the evening's protest did not appear to have been ordered by Hezbollah's leadership.

Speaking to Hezbollah's television station late on Thursday night, Nasrallah appealed to his supporters to immediately end their demonstrations.
"I urge them to leave the streets, more than urge, I beg them to leave the streets," he said. "We don't want anyone on the streets at all."

"I urge them to leave the streets, more than urge, I beg them to leave the streets"

Hasan Nasrallah, Hezbollah director-general

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Witnesses said that Hezbollah cars with loudspeakers had urged the protesters to disperse and go home. Hezbollah members were also reported to have blocked off nearby streets to stop the protests from spreading.

Protesters interviewed by Al Jazeera described the demonstrations as a "spontaneous public expression" of anger at "insults" they said had been directed at Nasrallah earlier in the day.

It was unclear precisely what the insults were.

Earlier in the day, Nasrallah did not join leading Sunni, Christian and Druze politicians in calling for an end to foreign - and specifically Syrian - interference in Lebanon.

Some have speculated that he was deliberately excluded from the gathering.

The road to the airport passes close to Beirut's mainly Shia southern suburbs, the stronghold of Hezbollah which is Lebanon's largest Shia political movement.

Hezbollah threatens new protests

Hezbollah, backed by Syria and Iran, had previously threatened to take to the streets to topple the Western-backed government of Fouad Siniora, the prime minister.

Ali al-Moqdad, a Hezbollah MP, told Al Jazeera that Hezbollah's protests might continue as early as Sunday when the official three days of mourning for Gemayal ends.

"After two days, we will go again with our demonstrations," he said on Thursday night.
Al Jazeera
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