Lebanese gunmen block roads to protest court ruling

Reuters News
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Posted: Jul 06, 2012 6:26 AM
Lebanese gunmen block roads to protest court ruling

BEIRUT (Reuters) - Gunmen and protesters burned tires and blocked roads in northern Lebanon for a second day on Friday in protest at a military court releasing eight soldiers detained over the killing of a cleric.

Soldiers shot the Sunni Muslim sheikh, Ahmed Abdul Wahid, and a companion in May as they drove through an army checkpoint. The court on Thursday freed eight soldiers arrested after the killing.

Five others were kept in detention but the releases enraged Sunni areas near the sheikh's hometown.

Tensions have been high for months in northern Lebanon, partly due to the revolt in neighboring Syria. Conflicting pro- and anti-uprising sympathies has reignited local tensions and has sparked several bouts of deadly fighting in the port city of Tripoli, which the army has struggled to stamp out.

Abdul Wahid was a supporter of the Syrian uprising against President Bashar al-Assad. Many Lebanese Sunnis back Syria's largely Sunni-led uprising, supplying aid to refugees and helping with weapons smuggling to rebels. They complain that the Lebanese army has responded harshly to opposition backers.

Local clerics and officials in north Lebanon were meeting to try to calm the situation, residents said, after masked gunmen took to the streets on Thursday evening.

Many of the fighters disappeared on Friday but protesters continued burning tires and piled walls of dirt across roads, paralyzing traffic in much of Lebanon's northern region.

(Reporting by Nazih Saddiq and Erika Solomon; Editing by Alison Williams)