Lebanon on edge after car bomb kills security chief


Protesters and gunmen blocked roads with burning tires in Beirut and other cities on Saturday as grief and anger over the assassination of a senior intelligence official opposed to the Syrian leadership kept Lebanon on edge.

Lebanese soldiers opened fire on a group who took over a road in the Bekaa valley, wounding two people, witnesses said.

Troops reinforced road junctions and official buildings in the capital but many roads, including the highway to the international airport, were cut by demonstrators.

The protests broke out in reaction to the killing of Brigadier-General Wissam al-Hassan in a car bomb explosion in central Beirut on Friday afternoon.

Politicians accused Syrian President Bashar-al Assad of being behind the attack, deepening fears that the sectarian-tinged civil war in neighboring Syria is spilling over into Lebanon.

Hassan had led an investigation that implicated Syria and its Lebanese ally Hezbollah in the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri in 2005. Hassan had also helped uncover a bomb plot that led to the arrest and indictment in August of a pro-Assad former Lebanese minister - a setback for Syrian influence in Lebanon.

Lebanon's religious communities are divided between those that support Assad in Syria's civil war and those that back the Sunni-led rebels.

In Beirut's Sunni Muslim areas, where people are opposed to the Alawite Assad, cars mounted with loudspeakers cruised the streets issuing calls for the Lebanese government to resign.

Dozens of gunmen were in the streets and the mood was tense, witnesses said.

Squads of gunmen were also in the streets in the northern, mostly-Sunni city of Tripoli, where pro- and anti-Assad factions clashed earlier this year.

Rallies were also held and roads closed in the eastern Bekaa Valley and in the southern town of Sidon.

Soldiers and police guarded street corners in Beirut's Ashrafiyeh area, the mainly Christian district where the bomb exploded during rush hour, and at Martyrs' Square in the centre.

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