BEIRUT: Future Movement MP Fouad Siniora demanded Sunday the immediate resignation of Prime Minister Najib Mikati’s Cabinet and the formation of a “neutral salvation Cabinet” at the funeral of slain Brig. Gen. Wissam al-Hasan in Beirut.
Speaking to thousands of March 14 supporters outside the Mohammad Amin Mosque where the top security official was laid to rest, Siniora said “No to a government that covers crimes: yes to a neutral salvation government ... a government that protects all Lebanese and shifts them to a new phase.”
He also accused the government of being responsible for the killing of Hasan, who headed the police’s Information Branch since its inception in 2006 and was killed in a car bomb in the Beirut district of Ashrafieh.
Following Siniora’s speech, hundreds of angry protesters clashed with police in an attempt to break through the Grand Serail. Several were injured as security forces used tear gas and fired gunshots in the air to disperse the crowd.
Addressing Mikati, Siniora angrily said that the prime minister could not remain in office “because remaining in his post means you approve what is happening.”
Hasan, 47, was assassinated in a car bomb Friday that ripped through the Beirut neighborhood of Ashrafieh. His driver and a woman identified as Georgette Sarkissian were also killed in the explosion, the most serious since 2008.
The security official’s killing has raised concern of a return to the series of political assassinations that Lebanon saw between 2005 and 2008.
The opposition March 14 group has accused President Bashar Assad of being behind the assassination, holding Mikati personally responsible for his killing.
Hasan will be laid to rest alongside former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri who himself was a victim of a 2005 car bomb.
In his address Sunday, Siniora, head of the Future parliamentary bloc, said there were local elements that aided the assassins without naming anyone.
“There was a local conspiracy and assistance to the coward criminal and there was support on the ground starting from Beirut airport to Ashrafieh,” he said.
The funeral ceremony of the slain intelligence chief took place Sunday at the Beirut police headquarters, before his coffin was transported to Mohammad Amin Mosque in Downtown Beirut.
Thousands of people gathered in Martyrs' Square carrying party flags as well as Lebanese and "Syrian revolution" flags cheered heavily upon their arrival to the mosque.
Supporters carried signs that read: “Leave, leave Najib,” “Remove Bashar [Assad] from Lebanon,” and a picture of Mikati with Hezbollah chief Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah that read: “The blood of Wissam is on your hands.”
Huge posters of Hasan hung on the buildings surrounding the square where the funeral was held. Family members consoled each other as they watched his coffin wrapped in the Lebanese flag being carried alongside that of his driver, First Sergeant Ahmad Sahyouni.
Mikati along with President Michel Sleiman as well as several Cabinet ministers and police chief Maj. Gen. Ashraf Rifi, himself a target of assassination in the past, attended the service where they offered condolences to Hasan’s parents, his wife, and two children.
In a speech commemorating Hasan, Sleiman tied the security chief’s killing with the case of former Minister Michel Samaha, saying the Information Branch had been punished for its achievements.
“This [security] institution is being punished with the assassination of its leader Maj. Gen. Wissam al-Hasan because the Information Branch has achieved so much, including uncovering ... bomb plots where they confiscated explosives and arrested the transporter,” Sleiman said.
The president also asked the judiciary to speed up the investigation process and issue an indictment in the case of Samaha.
“I call on politicians and the government not to provide cover for the perpetrator but provide for security agencies and judiciary [to facilitate their duty],” Sleiman said.
Hasan was posthumously awarded the Cedar Medal and promoted to the rank of major general.
Samaha, who has maintained close ties with the Syrian regime for decades, was charged in August with transporting explosives from Syria into Lebanon to use them in terrorist attacks aimed at assassinating religious and political figures.
Hours after news of his death, angry protesters in several parts of the country blocked roads with burning tires for two consecutive days.
His assassination has also put in doubt the fate of the Lebanese government, which was formed in early 2011 after ministers in the Hezbollah-led March 8 coalition resigned, forcing the collapse of the government of then Prime Minister Saad Hariri.
On Saturday, Mikati said he had suspended his decision to resign and given Sleiman time to consult the National Dialogue Committee on the matter.
Following an emergency Cabinet meeting over Hasan’s assassination, Mikati also told reporters that it was difficult not to link the intelligence chief’s killing with the case of Samaha.
France urged Sleiman Saturday to avoid a political vacuum in Lebanon and said that the Cabinet should continue its mandate, while Britain said the international community would help prevent divisions in the country.