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Lebanon: A "day of rage" spreads across Lebanon


Tens of thousands took to the streets in cities across Lebanon on Friday to vent their anger over a US-made film and French cartoons mocking Islam.

In the southern port city of Sidon, Sunni clerics called "a day of rage" against insults to the Prophet Mohammad but urged followers to contain their anger to inside their mosques.

French schools were closed and the army was deployed at French institutions in Sidon, Beirut and the northern city of Tripoli, in anticipation of a backlash against the publication of obscene cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad in a French satirical magazine.

Separately, thousands of supporters of the powerful Shia movement Hezbollah took to the streets after Friday prayers in the eastern city of Baalbek, an AFP correspondent said.

The Sunni authority for Sidon and several clerics in Tripoli called for Saudi Arabia and Egypt's Al-Azhar – the highest authorities in Sunni Islam – to issue a fatwa condoning the murder of anyone associated with the film and for those who denigrate Islam or its prophet.

"He who dares to insult Islam and the Prophet Mohammad shall not live. There are things that cannot be tolerated and insulting the Prophet Mohammed is one of them," Sheikh Maher Hammoud, imam of the Quds mosque, said during his sermon.

An AFP correspondent in Sidon said 300 people gathered at the mosque and that, after Friday's weekly Muslim prayers, protesters burned US and Israeli flags while chanting "Death to America, death to Israel!"

In Tripoli, radical Islamist cleric Omar Bakri called on the "soldiers of Islam" to avenge the creators of the film and publishers of the cartoons, an AFP correspondent reported.

Bakri asked fellow Muslims to support a fatwa that would make it "legitimate to kill those who have insulted the Prophet Mohammad."

"I'm not in favor of the demonstrations that condemn, because they do more harm than good. They are not a solution to stop these continuous abuses against our religion – this can only happen with a strong response," Bakri said.

Outside Tripoli, Sheikh Mustafa Malas decried the silence of Arab and Muslim officials toward their American and French counterparts.

"Arab and Islamic countries must take a decisive stand against the United States and France after the insults to our Prophet, and boycott their goods," he said during his Friday sermon.

"They have repeated these offensive behaviors ... Their actions amount to a war declared on Islam and they must not be surprised by reactions of reprisal."

The correspondent reported seeing military vehicles and a large army and police presence outside the French high school and cultural mission in the northern city of Tripoli.

The army has also stepped up security measures to protect the French ambassador's residence in Beirut with military vehicles.

Protesters also burned American and Israeli flags outside a Beirut mosque, where troops were on guard nearby.

A public demonstration called for by Sheikh Ahmad al-Assir, a controversial Salafi cleric, drew about one thousand men in downtown Beirut, according to an Al-Akhbar correspondent.

The sheikh said the United States and France had disrespected Islam by allowing the film and cartoons that mock the Prophet Mohammad to be published.

The demonstrators waved an assortment of flags, including black and green Islamic banners, the Syrian opposition flag, the Turkish flag, but no Lebanese flag, the correspondent said.

Demonstrations against the film continue to erupt across the region since first erupting in Egypt almost two weeks ago. Tens of people have been killed in related violence, including one man in Lebanon's Tripoli last week.

At least 14 have been killed and hundreds injured in Pakistani clashes during today's demonstration alone.

(AFP, Al-Akhbar)

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