BEIRUT –- Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati said he would not resign Saturday, a day after a car bomb killed the country’s intelligence chief and raised fears that Syria’s conflict was spilling into Lebanon.
Mikati in a televised news conference said he was willing to step down and feared for the safety of his family but that President Michel Sleiman asked him to stay on. The March 14 coalition, made up of several anti-Syria political parties, blamed the assassination of Col. Wissam Al-Hassan, intelligence chief for the Internal Security Forces, on Syrian President Bashar Assad.
The coalition, with which Al-Hassan was affiliated, said it holds Mikati personally responsible for the killing and called for his immediate resignation.
Several government ministers also rejected the call for Mikati to step down, saying it was not the solution to the problem, the official NNA news agency reported.
Instead, Mikati asked for national unity as Lebanon remained on edge Saturday with roads and highways around Beirut blocked by piles of burning tires, while gunmen roamed some streets of the northern city of Tripoli, where Sunni-Shiite tensions have regularly flared up in the past.
“We need to keep the nation unified, we need to keep the nation stable,” Mikati said in remarks that followed an emergency Cabinet meeting to discuss the nation’s security. Hassan, along with seven others, was killed when a car bomb went off in the busy, Christian neighborhood of Achrafiyeh. Scores were left injured.
In the northern region of Wadi Khaled, near the Syrian border, protesters at an anti-Assad and Anti-Hezbollah rally condemned the assassination, according to NNA. Hezbollah has remained a staunch ally of Assad's and has been accused of aiding Assad in the conflict.
The protesters burned Hezbollah flags and an effigy of Assad. Syrian soldiers opened fire on the demonstrators but no one was injured, according to NNA.
-- Patrick McDonnell
Photo: Lebanese army soldiers, rescue workers and civilians gather at the site of an explosion in Beirut, Lebanon, Oct. 19, 2012. Credit: Bilal Hussein / Associated Press.