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Protests break out in Beirut after slaying of Sunni cleric

May 20, 2012 |  3:06 pm

BEIRUT — Protesters in Beirut blocked roads with burning tires late Sunday, according to residents and media reports, following the shooting death earlier in the day of a Sunni Muslim cleric under shadowy  circumstances.

Soldiers and security forces cleared most of the streets for traffic in the Lebanese capital, said the official National News Agency (NNA). But the news agency also reported that six people were injured in a clash involving "bombs" and "machine guns" between two "local factions" near Arab University in Beirut.

Residents in some neighborhoods reported hearing gunfire. The situation appeared to calm down hours later.

The violence followed the death earlier in the day of Sheik Ahmed Abdel Wahed, a Sunni cleric known to support the uprising in neighboring Syria. The shooting occurred in northern Lebanon, raising tensions in that area following clashes last week in the city of Tripoli that left at least 11 people dead.

There were unconfirmed reports from village residents in the area that a car carrying the cleric was fired upon as it was leaving a military checkpoint. The cleric and another passenger died.

Sunni clerics called for three days of mourning and a nationwide general strike Monday in protest of their colleague's death.

In a statement Sunday, the Lebanese army expressed “deep regrets for the death of the two victims.” According to the statement posted online, "Sheik Ahmed Abdel Wahed and his companion were wounded with bullets and died shortly after due to their wounds.”

The army formed a committee of high-ranked officers to investigate the incident, according to the website. A military judge, Saqr Sagr, was dispatched to the north to gather evidence and interrogate soldiers from the checkpoint.


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— Alexandra Sandels in Beirut and Rima Marrouch in Amman, Jordan.