Lebanon's army commander warned the government that the daily protests and riots might get out of control, several newspapers reported Tuesday, as the authorities reported another night of unrest in the capital. The comments of Gen. Michel Suleiman showed that the military was concerned that the political crisis between the pro-Western, Sunni Muslim prime minister and the pro-Syrian, Shi'ite Muslim-led opposition was approaching dangerous levels.
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Thousands of troops are deployed across the capital where, since Friday, the Hizbullah-led opposition has been convening daily demonstrations to topple the government of Prime Minister Fuad Saniora.
Large crowds were expected later Tuesday at the funeral of a Shi'ite Muslim youth, Ahmed Mahmoud, 21, who was shot dead in street clashes in the Beirut district of Qasqas on Sunday. Further clashes took place in the nearby neighborhood of Tarik Jedideh on Monday night, when two people were wounded, police said.
"The absence of political solutions, along with the recurrence of security incidents, particuarly those with sectarian tinge, drains the army's resources and weakens its neutrality," Suleiman was quoted as saying. "This weakness will make the army unable to control the situation in all areas of Lebanon."
Suleiman's reported remarks were exceptional in that army officers are not allowed to make political statements. A senior military official declined to confirm or deny Suleiman's quotes to The Associated Press, but the Army issued no statement to rebut the reported comments.
Troops and armored cars have taken up positions in various parts of Beirut, particularly around the Prime Minister's office complex, near which protesters have staged daily demonstrations and even camped overnight. Soldiers are also on duty in the Sunni Muslim and mixed neighborhoods where the nightly riots with sticks, bottles and sometimes gunfire have occurred.
Security officials said that on Monday night, bands of young Shi'ites attempted to block the road leading to Beirut airport, in the south of the city, but were prevented by troops.
The officials spoke on condition of anonymity as they were not authorized to speak to the press.