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Sunday 27 May 2018

Assassination of intelligence chief in Lebanon sparks outrage

LEBANESE Prime Minister Najib Mikati said today he had been asked by the president to stay in his post as fear and anger over the assassination of a senior intelligence chief opposed to the Syrian leadership gripped the country.

Mikati told a news conference in the presidential palace that he had offered his resignation to President Michel Suleiman to make way for a government of national unity, but had been asked to remain in office for the time being.

As he spoke, gunmen and demonstrators blocked roads with burning tyres in Beirut and other cities to protest against the killing of Brigadier-General Wissam al-Hassan in a car bomb explosion in the centre of the capital on Friday afternoon.

Lebanese politicians have accused Syrian President Bashar-al Assad of being behind the attack, deepening fears that Syria's sectarian-tinged civil war is spreading to its neighbour.

The opposition March 14 bloc had called for the government, which includes ministers from the Shi'ite militant group Hezbollah, which is close to Assad, to step down.

"Today, I am saying more and more that there should be a national consensus government," Mikati said. "The cabinet will eventually resign, but at the moment we must take a national stance, and I call on the Lebanese to unite together."

Hassan had led an investigation that implicated Syria and Hezbollah in the assassination of former prime minister Rafik al-Hariri in 2005.

He also helped to uncover a bomb plot that led to the arrest and indictment in August of a pro-Assad former Lebanese minister, an incident that fuelled sectarian enmity in a country where the balance between religious groups is fragile.

Lebanon's religious communities are divided between those that support Assad in Syria's civil war and those that back the Sunni-led rebels. Lebanon is still recovering from its own1975-1990 civil war, and the assassination threatens to bring a new bout of instability and bloodshed.

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