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Sunday, June 04, 2006

'Calm' returns to Beirut after riots over TV show mocking Hezbullah

There were riots in Beirut on Thursday night after a privately-owned Christian TV station aired a show in which an actor spoofed Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, wearing the Hezbollah leader's trademark black turban and sported a similar beard and spectacles.

Al-AP reports:
Hundreds of Hezbollah supporters immediately went out into the streets of southern Beirut, the stronghold of Hezbollah. They carried pictures of Nasrallah and shouted words of support. They also blocked the road to the airport, but officials there said the country's only air facility remained open.

The numbers swelled to several thousand as more people took to the streets. The unrest spread to other Shi'ite neighborhoods of Beirut proper, where rioters blocked roads and burned car tires, the officials said. Troops blocked some roads in the commercial center in downtown Beirut to stop Hezbollah supporters riding on motorcycles from reaching the area.

Police did not interfere, but security officials said soldiers were deployed along some areas of the former demarcation line between Christian and Muslim neighborhoods of south Beirut to prevent the unrest from taking a sectarian tone.


Hezbollah broadcast a statement on its Al-Manar TV station that said the TV show had "insulted the symbol of the resistance and its leader" but urged supporters "to exercise patience and end their action" while the matter is dealt with through the appropriate channels.

But the protests continued, prompting Nasrallah to make a direct appeal on Al-Manar by telephone early Friday, thanking his supporters and appealing to them "to end the gatherings and go home."

"We are keen on the safety, security and stability of this country," he said.

The program, "Bassmet Watan," which can be translated either as "A Nation's Smile" or "A Nation That Died," showed an actor in the role of Nasrallah talking about his alliance with Christian politician Michel Aoun.

The satire did not carry any insulting words of the leader, but ridiculed the group's continued assertion of resistance against Israel. One questioner asked the person acting as Nasrallah whether he would lay down his arms, and the man replied by implying the group will use every excuse not to surrender its weapons.


The producer of the widely watched TV program, Charbel Khalil, issued an apology broadcast late Thursday. He said he deeply respects Nasrallah and depicting the leader "was not meant to offend him."
Al-AP reports that quiet returned to Beirut early Friday.


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