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Hizbullah Supporters Block Roads, Burn Tires in Protest Against TV Program that Mocked Nasrallah

Retrieved from Naharnet on June 2, 2006

Several thousand Hizbullah supporters have taken to the streets in Beirut's southern suburbs burning tires and blocking roads, including the airport highway, in protest against a TV comedy show that mocked the group's leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah.

The trouble began shortly after the LBCI TV show "Bas Mat Watan" aired a sketch in which an actor spoofed Nasrallah, wearing the Hizbullah leader's trademark black turban and sported a similar beard and spectacles.

Hundreds of Hizbullah supporters immediately went out into the streets of Beirut's southern suburbs, the Shiite group's stronghold. They carried pictures of Nasrallah and shouted words of support. They also blocked the road to the airport, which remained open in spite of the protests.

The numbers swelled to several thousand as more people poured into the streets. The unrest spread to other Shiite neighborhoods of Beirut proper, where rioters blocked roads and burned car tires.

Troops blocked some roads in the commercial center in downtown Beirut to stop Nasrallah's 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.

Similar protests took place in Baalbek in eastern Lebanon and the cities of Sidon and Tyre and the town of Nabatiyeh in the south, all predominantly Shiite areas where Hizbullah enjoys wide support.

The trouble over the program reflects the boiling political tension in the country between parties allied and opposed to Syria. Hizbullah, backed by Syria and Iran, has been accused by the anti-Syrian camp of serving Damascus' interests in Lebanon. Pro-Syrian factions accuse the anti-Syrian parliamentary majority of working for the United States.

Hizbullah 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 LBCI satirical program, which has the double meaning of "A Nation's Smile" or "A Nation That Died," showed an actor in the role of Nasrallah talking about his alliance with Gen. Michel Aoun, a former military leader who has a mainly-Christian following.

The sketch 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 mere depiction of Nasrallah, a middle-ranking Shiite cleric, was enough to enrage his supporters.

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."

Hizbullah is currently under international and domestic pressure to disarm, but the group has rejected the calls, saying the weapons are needed to defend Lebanon against possible Israeli attack.(AP-Naharnet)