Beirut, (AFP) – Lebanese police fired in the air and used tear gas on Sunday to repel protesters trying to storm the premier’s office, amid calls for him to quit after a top security official was killed by a car bomb blamed on Syria.
The funeral of General Wissam al-Hassan had been billed as a protest against Syrian meddling in Lebanon, but quickly turned into equal, if not greater, anger at Prime Minister Najib Mikati and his government.
Just minutes after the nearby ceremony, “young people headed towards the building in the city centre, but security forces blocked them by firing into the air and using tear gas,” a policeman told AFP.
The group was estimated at a couple of hundred people.
During funeral orations for the slain police intelligence chief, angry former premier Fuad Siniora called on Mikati to resign, adding his voice to many others since Hassan and two others were killed and 126 wounded on Friday.
Siniora, parliamentary chief for opposition leader and ex-pemier Saad Hariri, said the “government is responsible for the crime that killed Wissam and his chauffeur. That is why he must go.”
“Mikati, you cannot stay in your post to cover up this crime,” he said. “If you stay, it means you agree with what happened and what will happen.”
Despite calls for him to step down, Mikati said after an emergency cabinet meeting he had agreed to stay in his post at the request of President Michel Sleiman to avoid a “political vacuum” in volatile Lebanon.
The opposition has widely accused Syrian President Bashar al-Assad of being behind the attack, as it did in 2005 when Hariri’s ex-premier father Rafiq was killed in a huge Beirut blast.
In a show of defiance against Assad, a banner proclaimed “Two states, one revolution,” an allusion to the 19-month rebellion in Syria that has cost more than 34,000 lives.
“Bashar out of the Serail,” proclaimed another, referring to the seat of government.
After a solemn military farewell at the headquarters of the Internal Security Forces (ISF), the body of Sunni Muslim General Hassan, 47, was transported to Martyrs Square along with that of his chauffeur.
They and a third person were killed and 126 people wounded when the powerful bomb exploded on Friday in the upmarket mostly Christian district of Ashrafieh.
After the funeral at the massive Al-Amine Mosque, Hassan was to be buried in the mausoleum of his mentor, former premier Rafiq Hariri.
It was Hariri’s death, in which a Hassan-led probe pointed the finger at Damascus, which sparked an outcry which forced Syrian troops to withdraw from Lebanon after three decades of occupation.
No one has ever been tried for Hariri’s murder, but a UN-backed tribunal indicted four members of Hezbollah who are still at large.
Martyrs Square was dotted with huge billboards of a saluting Hassan and the slogan “A martyr for truth and justice.”