Party of Lebanon's Berri calls on his supporters to halt protests

BEIRUT - The political party led by Lebanese Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri called on his supporters on Thursday to stop protesting in the street, seeking to contain tensions unleashed by a row involving President Michel Aoun.

Supporters of Berri and his Amal Movement have been protesting since Monday, after Aoun's son-in-law, Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil, was caught on camera calling Berri "a thug".

The standoff has exacerbated a political standoff between Berri, a Shi'ite, and Aoun, a Maronite Christian, threatening to ignite sectarian tensions before a parliamentary election in May and to paralyse government.

The tensions continued on Wednesday evening, when the army deployed in a Christian area near Beirut after Amal supporters drove through it firing guns into the air, according to security sources and local reports.

Supporters of the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM), which was founded by Aoun, came out into the streets, also carrying weapons, according to the sources and reports.

"We ask all those who took to the streets in an unorganized and spontaneous manner ... To halt any movements in the street," Amal said in a statement.

Amal thanked its supporters for condemning Bassil's remark but said this had led to "some problems which do not reflect the image and position of the Amal Movement".

The FPM said on Tuesday that Bassil had already expressed regret for the comments and that it regarded the issue as over. Berri said on Wednesday he must apologise "to the Lebanese people" for the remark.
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