Thousands greet Ahmadinejad on first state visit to Lebanon

Iranian president "may meet with Erdogan, Lebanese PM on Friday in tripartite meeting"; Hizbullah supporters line highways into the capital as part of welcome ceremonies.

October 13, 2010 12:42
1 minute read.
Ahmadinejad Lebanon banner

Ahmadinejad Lebanon billboard sign 311 AP. (photo credit: Associated Press)

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad began his first state visit to Lebanon on Wednesday, giving a strong show of support to the Shi'ite militant group Hizbullah and stirring up the country's tumultuous political divides.

Thousands of Lebanese — mostly Hizbullah backers — lined the main highway into the capital from Beirut's airport, where Ahmadinejad arrived Wednesday. Loudspeakers blasted songs as women sold Hizbullah flags and balloons to onlookers.

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Iran is the most powerful ally of Hizbullah which holds widespread support among Lebanon's Shi'ites and boasts the country's strongest military force. But Ahmadinejad's visit has sparked concern among Western-backed factions locked in a political struggle with Hizbullah over the direction of the country.

A soccer stadium in the southern suburbs of the Lebanese capital on Tuesday was ready to receive the thronging mass of Shia Lebanese well-wishers who will greet the Iranian president. In Bint Jbail, a large replica of the Aksa Mosque in Jerusalem was constructed, with an Iranian flag atop it.

The Lebanese daily Assafir reported that Ahmadinejad may hold a tripartite meeting with his Turkish Prime Minster Tayyip Erdogan and Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri counterparts on Friday.

The paper reported that the Iranian president extended his trip so the three can meet "amid major headlines."

Ahmadinejad is expected to visit battlegrounds of the Second Lebanon War in southern Lebanon, including Bint Jbail and Maroun a-Ras on Wednesday and Thursday, and reportedly wants to go to the border with Israel and throw rocks at IDF soldiers.

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