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Tensions Run High In Beirut Over Slain Official


On a Monday, it's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.


And I'm David Greene. Good morning.

Moderator Bob Schieffer has released his list of topics for tonight's presidential debate on foreign policy. It's a busy agenda. Everything from China to Pakistan, which reflects a busy season of news from abroad. And we're discussing several of those topics throughout today's program. Some of the talk will turn to the Middle East, where there was more violence overnight. Protests erupt in Lebanon after the funeral of Wissam al-Hassan. He was one of the Lebanon's top intelligence officers assassinated by a bomb. From Beirut, NPR's Kelly McEvers brings us this report.


KELLY MCEVERS, BYLINE: The day started with a military ceremony at the headquarters of the intelligence branch where Hassan was a top official. A big-screen TV broadcast the ceremony to a large public square in central Beirut. The screen showed Hassan's stoic wife and stricken sons as his coffin was paraded in front of his fellow officers.

PRESIDENT MICHEL SLEIMAN: (Foreign language spoken)

MCEVERS: Lebanese president Michel Sleiman called on the country's judiciary to be quick to prosecute those who killed Hassan.

As with the assassinations from 2005 to 2008, the regime in Syria and its main ally here in Lebanon, the Shiite militia Hezbollah, are widely being blamed for Hassan's death. Hassan was considered a major enemy of the Syrian regime and Hezbollah. He recently was behind the arrest of a pro-Syrian former Lebanese minister who was accused of plotting bomb attacks across Lebanon, in coordination with Syrian officials.

As the body of Hassan and his colleague, who was also killed in the blast, were carried into the public square, church bells rang and people openly wept and cried out.

The two coffins are draped in the Lebanese flag. They're being held aloft. Men are fighting to be the one to hold them aloft.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Foreign language spoken)

MCEVERS: God be with you, our hero, the women say.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Foreign language spoken)

MCEVERS: Lebanon is a deeply divided place. In many ways, the turnout for the funeral was a chance for the anti-Syria, mostly Sunni alliance to show it can stand up to the pro-Syria, mostly Shiite alliance led by Hezbollah, which also now controls the government. But the turnout was smaller than expected, just a few thousand people. And there seemed to be no unified slogan or protest message, despite the fact that Hassan's backers had called for a massive show of support. Most people, like this woman, Nadine al-Basha, were only able to say what they were against.

NADINE AL-BASHA: I'm purely here because I'm anti-Hezbollah, that's it. I don't represent anybody. I'm anti-politics. I don't care for anybody. But I'm anti-Hezbollah in general. That's it.

MCEVERS: Once the funeral was over, the politicians did not blame Hezbollah for Hassan's death but rather the prime minister, who's in a power-sharing government with Hezbollah. A small and angry mob of protesters ran to the prime minister's office with sticks and rocks, demanding his resignation. Back in the square, Hassan was quietly laid to rest, as all attention turned to the mob.

Kelly McEvers, NPR News, Beirut. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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