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Efforts to end Assir’s sit-in make progress

Supporters of Sheikh Ahmad Assir attend Friday prayers at the site of the sit-in in Sidon, Friday, July 27, 2012. (The Daily Star/Mohammed Zaatari)

SIDON, Lebanon: Ongoing efforts to end Sheikh Ahmad Assir’s sit-in at Sidon’s northern entrance have made progress and might lead to positive results in the next 48 hours, sources in the southern city said Monday.

The sources said that signs of progress emerged after Assir showed some flexibility with local and official efforts to end the protest, which has paralyzed business in the city.

Assir’s supporters began a sit-in on Sidon’s eastern highway on June 28 to protest Hezbollah’s arms. Assir, a harsh critic of Hezbollah, has repeatedly called on the party to surrender its weapons to the Lebanese Army.

The solution proposed to end Assir’s sit-in calls for a pledge from President Michel Sleiman to include the issue of Hezbollah’s arms as a main topic on the agenda of the next National Dialogue session scheduled on Aug. 16 and discuss it seriously as demanded by Assir, sources said.

Sleiman’s initiative will be conveyed to Assir by phone by Interior Minister Marwan Charbel, the same sources added.

In a goodwill gesture toward Sleiman’s move, Assir will announce the termination of the sit-in while continuing his activity at the Bilal Bin Rabah Mosque, the sources added.

Meanwhile, former Sidon MP Osama Saad, head of the Popular Nasserite Organization, slammed Assir’s sit-in, calling it “a time bomb” aimed at inflaming sectarian strife and plunging the southern city and Lebanon into chaos and civil war.

Speaking at a news conference at his office in Sidon Saad also accused the Future Movement of “betrayal,” saying it had thwarted a general strike originally planned for Monday to protest against Assir’s blockage of one of the city’s major highways.

Saad warned of the “colossal dangers” posed by Assir’s sit-in to stability and civil peace, in addition to its economic damage and restriction of people’s movement.

Saad said he had welcomed the Future Movement’s initiative to close ranks in Sidon, including staging a general strike Monday, against the sit-in.

“But we were surprised, as were the other political parties, economic committees and civil organizations with the Future Movement’s move to cancel the strike and thwart the unified Sidon stance,” he said.

Sidon’s political leaders, public figures and business owners Sunday postponed for 48 hours a strike they had scheduled for Monday to protest Assir’s sit-in. A group of businesspeople announced the strike’s postponement, saying in a statement that they were providing Prime Minister Najib Mikati and Charbel time to solve the problem.

“There are allied parties in the city, including the Future Movement and Al-Jamaa al-Islamiya, which support Assir’s slogans on the resistance’s arms. They support these slogans and provide the sit-in with a political cover,” Saad said. He accused some “authorities” in the Lebanese state of also supporting Assir’s slogans.

Saad also accused some Arab countries, which he did not name, of asking Lebanese authorities to support Assir’s actions.

Referring to Sidon MP Bahia Hariri’s visit to him, Saad said: “We were cautious in dealing with this [protest] and with MP Bahia Hariri’s visit to us. I was trying to push matters toward a correct tackling of this [protest] and to ensure Sidon’s consensus. But this consensus was struck by the Future Movement by what it did behind the scene.” He said he and Sidon were “betrayed” by the Future Movement when it thwarted the strike.

“Behind-the-scene deals were struck between the Future Movement and the sit-in people,” Saad said.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on July 31, 2012, on page 4.

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