BEIRUT – Lebanon’s President Michel Aoun called for national unity on Sunday after violence erupted in parts of Beirut between supporters of rival sectarian political parties.
Lebanon maintains a fragile sectarian balance since its many religious sects fought a 1975-1990 civil war with factions often backed by regional rivals.
In a statement, the president said he condemns “any insult against the religious symbols of any component of the Lebanese family and the subsequent acts of violence and reactions that occurred overnight in several Lebanese regions.”
A financial crisis that began late last year, rooted in decades of state waste and corruption, is seen as the biggest threat to the country’s stability since the war.
“Our strength remains in our national unity…What happened last night is a warning bell,” Aoun’s office quoted him as saying on Twitter. “We must put our political disputes aside and hurry to work together to revive our country from the depth of the successive crises.”
Gunfire was heard in some Beirut neighbourhoods and suburbs on Saturday night during scuffles between supporters of rival parties, local media reported. Security forces deployed in large numbers.
Calm returned after a tense standoff in a Christian-Shi’ite district linked to the start of the civil war, along a former frontline, local media said.
Earlier on Saturday, security forces had fired tear gas at protesters who threw rocks, angry at the ruling elite and its handling of the crisis.
Sunni and Shiite leaderships and parties called for calm late Saturday after insults against Prophet Mohammed’s wife Aisha by young counter-demonstrators sparked angry protests and Sunni-Shiite tensions.
Dar al-Fatwa, the country’s highest Sunni religious authority, warned all Muslims against “falling into the trap of sectarian strife.”
“The cursing of Sayyida Aisha can only come from an ignorant person who should be enlightened,” Dar al-Fatwa said in a statement.
The head of the Higher Islamic Shiite Council Sheikh Abdul Amir Qabalan for his part warned of “suspicious attempts to stir sectarian strife” and condemned the insults against the Prophet’s wife.
Shiite mufti Sheikh Ahmed Qabalan meanwhile urged authorities to protect the country and its people and slammed those whom he called “mercenaries and agents” who are trying to “ignite national and sectarian strife.”