Protesters in Lebanon challenge pro Syrian government


Thousands of demonstrators massed in central Beirut overnight to defy a government ban on protests on Monday ahead of a fiery debate in parliament over the assassination of the country's former prime minister.

Opposition groups have called a demonstration at central Martyrs Square and a one-day strike to coincide with the debate on Rafik al-Hariri's killing on Feb. 14 that for many recalled Lebanon's bitter 1975-90 civil war.

Interior Minister Suleiman Franjieh called on security forces in a statement on Sunday "to take all necessary steps to preserve security and order and prevent demonstrations and gatherings on Monday."

The Syrian-backed government's protest ban is due to come into effect at 5 a.m. (0300 GMT).

Late on Sunday, soldiers manning barriers set up in central Beirut stopped hundreds of protesters from entering Martyrs Square, which is near Hariri's grave.

Thousands of demonstrators draped in Lebanese flags had already gathered in the square, where patriotic songs blared from loudspeakers.

Protesters demanded the government resign and chanted "Syria get out" and "Freedom, sovereignty, independence."

The confrontation is probably already underway. Hopefully the Lebanese government will not act like the Chinese did in Tinamin Square.


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