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LEBANON: Journalists bear brunt of Hariri's 'day of rage'

January 26, 2011 |  7:41 am

Lebanon-jazeera

Press advocacy groups have joined politicians and others in condemning Wednesday's attacks on journalists after a national "day of rage" organized by former prime minister and Washington ally Saad Hariri spiraled out of control.

The largest riots took place in the northern city of Tripoli, where an angry mob set fire to a satellite truck belonging to the pan-Arab satellite channel Al Jazeera. The news crew, which was reporting from the roof of a nearby office, took refuge in the building along with reporters from the local Lebanese station New TV until they were evacuated by the Lebanese army, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists and others.

By all accounts, Hariri's supporters made life a nightmare for journalists trying to cover one of the biggest international news stories so far this year. 

Mohamed Al-Saheli, a photographer for the state-owned National News Agency, was assaulted in the Cola district of Beirut, and protesters threw stones at a news crew from the Lebanese station NBN in the area of Tariq Al-Jadid. NBN correspondent Rasha Al Zain was also "roughed up" and some of the station’s equipment was destroyed, according to Reporters Without Borders, which called Wednesday a "black day" for media in Lebanon.

The English-language Lebanese newspaper the Daily Star also reported that Adnan Ghalmoush, a correspondent for Al-Arabyia TV, was banned from reporting for a few minutes.

By early afternoon, Hariri took to the airwaves to plead for calm, and several hours later his office issued a statement condemning the attacks on media workers.

The protests were intended to mobilize the Sunni street against the appointment of the Hezbollah-backed prime minister, Najib Mikati, who Hariri and his allies have characterized as a pawn in a plot by the Iranian-backed militant political group to overthrow the government. The crisis stems from a United Nations-backed tribunal that is expected to accuse members of Hezbollah in the 2005 assassination of Saad Hariri's father, former prime minister Rafik Hariri.

In retrospect, declaring a national "day of rage" may not have been the best way for Hariri to highlight his qualifications as a statesman in the face of rogue armed elements. Protesters -- mostly young men -- channeled their rage by blocking roads, burning tires, setting fire to the office of a political opponent and attacking journalists from media outlets they accused of being sympathetic to Hezbollah.

Late Tuesday evening, reports also surfaced of grenade explosions in certain Tripoli neighborhoods, but by Wednesday calm had returned to Lebanon as Mikati prepared to meet with Hariri and other politicians in order to begin the process of forming a government. Hariri and his allies have sworn not to participate in Mikati's government.

-- Meris Lutz in Beirut

Photo: A van of Al Jazeera TV channel is on fire in the streets of Tripoli, Lebanon, after Sunni supporters of the outgoing Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri set the vehicle ablaze while protesting the likely appointment of new Prime Minister Najib Mikati. Credit: Adel Karroum/EPA 

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