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BEIRUT: Lebanon’s premier, under intense political flak over a car bombing that killed a senior security official, said yesterday that he would stay on after the president said it would be in the national interest.
Prime Minister Najib Mikati spoke after an urgent cabinet meeting discussed the Friday bombing in Beirut that killed at least three people, wounded scores and has been blamed on Syrian President Bashar Al Assad.
Lebanese opposition figures had demanded that Mikati and his government step down after the blast, which killed Internal Security Forces (ISF) intelligence chief General Wissam Al Hassan, a prominent anti-Assad figure.
“I assured the president of the republic (Michel Sleiman) that I was not attached to the post as head of the government,” Mikati said. “He asked that I stay in place because it is not a personal issue but one of the national interest.” An official in Sleiman’s office said Mikati “had not resigned but had expressed to the president his intention to do so”.
“The decision was suspended pending the meeting of the National Dialogue” scheduled for November 12, but which could be brought forward by the president, the official added.
Amid scattered protests around the country, yesterday was declared a day of mourning for Hassan, 47, who was killed in his home district of Ashrafieh, an upmarket, mainly Christian area. Hassan, who investigated the assassination seven years ago of former premier Rafiq Hariri in a car bombing also blamed on Syria, will be buried near Hariri’s mausoleum in central Beirut today.
The anti-Syrian opposition, led by Hariri’s son Saad, called for a massive turnout for the funeral after prayers at the Al-Amine Mosque in central Beirut.
The attack drew condemnation from abroad, with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton calling it a “dangerous sign that there are those who continue to seek to undermine Lebanon’s stability”.
Protesters, some burning tyres, blocked roads in Beirut, Sidon in the south, Tripoli in the north and the Bekaa Valley in the east. In Tripoli overnight, firefights erupted after the office of pro-Hezbollah Sunni party Tawhid came under rocket fire and a Sunni sheikh and party member was killed in crossfire, a security official said.
The bombing’s final death toll is still unclear. On Friday, official figures put it at eight, but the ISF and the Red Cross both lowered the figure to three yesterday. The ISF said 80 people were wounded, and the Red Cross 110. The site, a mass of rubble and twisted metal, remained cordoned off as investigators sifted for clues.