A funeral procession of thousands in Beirut’s southern suburbs turned into an angry anti-government demonstration Tuesday as Hezbollah activists inflamed the march with calls for the fall of the Lebanese government.
The mourners, whose numbers increased with every turn of the dusty streets on the two-mile trek from a mosque to a cemetery, rallied to frenzied chants by members of the pro-Iranian Hezbollah, or Party of God.
“ Allahu akbar! (God is great!) Death to Israel! Death to America!” the crowd shouted.
The dead, eight Hezbollah supporters, were shot and killed Monday by Lebanese troops breaking up a demonstration against the Israeli-PLO peace accord signed in Washington. Monday’s demonstrators were acting in defiance of a government ban on public gatherings. The killings marked the first time Lebanese troops had fired on Hezbollah militiamen.
On Tuesday, police diverted traffic from the funeral procession, but no attempt was made by the army to stop the well-disciplined crowd.
An army officer along the route said the government ban on protests does not include funerals. “We cannot tell people not to bury their dead,” he said.
The procession was led by Shiite women in the hundreds, many clad in chadors. Thousands of men brandished placards, banners and flags--including the Palestinian flag.
As the bodies, their coffins shrouded in Hezbollah’s yellow flag, were carried into the cemetery, emotions flared. The crowd, chanting in Arabic, called for the deaths of Lebanese President Elias Hrawi and his prime minister, Rafik Hariri.
A Cabinet crisis ensued Monday after the shootings. Interior Minister Bishara Merhej criticized the use of force to disperse the demonstration and accused Defense Minister Muhsin Dallul of overstepping his authority.
Merhej suspended his own membership in the Cabinet “pending a clear definition of responsibilities.”