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Charbel says Sidon still on edge after Assir protest halted.

Summary: Interior Minister Marwan Charbel warned over the weekend that the situation in the southern coastal city of Sidon remained sensitive.

SIDON, Lebanon: Interior Minister Marwan Charbel warned over the weekend that the situation in the southern coastal city of Sidon remained sensitive following the recent removal of a sit-in by controversial Sheikh Ahmad Assir that raised political tensions in the city to a boiling point.

"In all honesty the security situation in Sidon is very sensitive and we all have to acknowledge this and I remember and everyone remembers what happened in 1975," Charbel told reporters, referring to the year of the outbreak of Lebanon's 1975-90 Civil War.

"I don't want this situation to repeat itself in 2012 and none of Sidon's residents would like this recur," he added, after heading a provincial security meeting in the city.

Assir and his followers, who had closed Sidon's highway for over a month in protest against Hezbollah's arms, dismantled their sit-in Wednesday and traffic resumed along the city's main road.

The protest and sit-in considerably raised tensions in the city. Counter-protests were staged, scuffles between rival groups occurred and even a grenade was thrown in the direction of demonstrators during the protest that diverted entry and exit into the city to the coastal road, snarled traffic and limited business activity.

Charbel said he would not permit retaliatory acts against Assir, warning that any deterioration in the security situation of Sidon would have a reverberating effect on the rest of the country.

He said one of the aims of his visit had been to reassure Assir.

"From a security point of view, it is our duty to protect persons because we are responsible for the security of all Lebanese," he said.

Charbel said wisdom and dialogue were essential to easing tensions.

"Dialogue alone is the guarantor to reducing tribal and sectarian tensions," the minister said.

He also vowed not to allow sit-ins and the blocking of roads in any part of the country, as occurred in Sidon, under the pretext of people's demands.

"The blocking of roads in Lebanon is a red line. Neither the government, nor the judiciary nor anyone else accept that the roads be blocked and that it appear we are living in a country that is uncivilized," he said.

Charbel acknowledged that political divisions in the country led to the blocking of roads.

He said it was essential that the security apparatuses be granted political cover to facilitate their work in apprehending law-breakers.

"If there isn't political cover, no one can do anything," he said.

The minister expressed hope that local security agencies would prevent a repeat of the sit-in in the southern coastal city.

"I hope the security apparatuses, particularly the head of the district, will deal with the security situation and I do not want a repeat of the Sheikh Ahmad Assir scenario because if it does, I do not know where things will lead," he said.

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Publication:The Daily Star (Beirut, Lebanon)
Geographic Code:7LEBA
Date:Aug 6, 2012
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