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Assir's protests resume across Sidon.

Summary: A bomb scare and four separate sit-ins staged by supporters of Sheikh Ahmad Assir disrupted business in Sidon Sunday.

SIDON, Lebanon: A bomb scare and four separate sit-ins staged by supporters of Sheikh Ahmad Assir disrupted business in Sidon Sunday. Members of the Internal Security Forces Information Branch and the Army deployed to a Civil Defense center in north Sidon in response to reports that suspicious objects had been found in a Civil Defense vehicle near the Ztari Mosque.

After soldiers and police from the Information Branch arrived in the area, explosive experts said that the objects found in the Civil Defense truck were not bombs but fireworks.

Meanwhile, tension rans high in the city after supporters of Assir took to the streets to protest Hezbollah's arms and its alliance with Iran.

Apart from their regular sit-in at Sidon's Karama Square, Assir's supporters held other protests in Marjan, Elia and Rafik Hariri Boulevard near Sidon's coastal highway that connects the southern city with Beirut and Tyre.

Unlike past sit-ins, however, Assir did not take part in the protests that sparked a wave of criticism from politicians and businesses in the city.

"No to the arms of Wilayat al-Faqih ... No to Iranian arms in Lebanon ... No to May 7 ... No to protection of criminals," read the banners held by the protesters.

Ahmad Hariri, an Assir spokesperson, told The Daily Star that the action, which comes a month since the sheikh's supporters last protested, was aimed at reminding people to oppose what he described as the "arms' hegemony."

"We are protesting today in four symbolic squares in a peaceful move to remind people of [the slogan] 'No to the hegemony of arms,'" Hariri said.

Asked about Assir's absence in the past month, Hariri said: "We were not completely absent. We held conferences and awareness campaigns but some of it was not open to the media."

Security sources said that Assir told them he didn't hold sit-ins during the month of December "so as not to disrupt people's celebrations, especially those from the Christian sect during Christmas and New Year's."

Sunday's sit-ins sparked the ire of restaurant and cafe owners who said they have been looking forward to a boost in business Sunday after last week's heavy storm forced many to remain at home.

"People will think twice before coming here today [given the sit-ins]," one restaurant employee said.

Meanwhile, head of the Popular Nasserite Movement Osama Sd criticized Assir's move and accused the Interior Ministry of sponsoring them.

"Unfortunately, it seems as if the Interior Ministry is sponsoring the sit-ins and those calling for it," Sd said during a news conference during which he called on Interior Minister Marwan Charbel to take responsibility for any negative repercussions of the protests.

"Hasn't the Interior Ministry learned from past mistakes and the incidents that have occurred due to such demonstrations that threaten the country's stability?" asked Sd.

He also said that the sit-ins disrupted business in the city and the weekend activity.

"Holding a sit-in on the eastern highway disrupts traffic on this main road, which ensures transport between Sidon and its south and east as well as Beirut and the mountain. It is a road that usually sees significant traffic on Sundays," Sd said. He also called on Charbel to ban "all similar suspicious demonstrations that aim to explode the security situation in Sidon."

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Publication:The Daily Star (Beirut, Lebanon)
Geographic Code:7LEBA
Date:Jan 14, 2013
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