Protests Turn Violent in Lebanon: Demonstrators Torch Al-Jazeera Van, Attack Safadi's Office

Protests turned violent on Tuesday in Lebanon's Sunni bastion of Tripoli as frenzied demonstrators torched an Al-Jazeera van while protesting the likely appointment of a Hizbullah-backed premier.

Angry demonstrators set upon the vehicle, smashing the windshield and tearing down the satellite dish before setting it on fire.

The protesters accused the Arabic satellite Al-Jazeera station of bias in favor of Hizbullah. The station said no one was injured.

Demonstrators also torched the mopeds of other media outlets considered close to Hizbullah.

An AFP photographer witnessed similar incidents in the capital Beirut, where media considered close to Hizbullah and its allies were attacked by stone-throwing and baton-wielding demonstrators.

There were no immediate reports of injuries in the city, where there was a heavy security presence.

A security official told AFP shots were fired in the air in Beirut. Shots also rang out in Tripoli.

The demonstrators in Tripoli also attacked a building housing the offices of Sunni lawmaker Mohammed Safadi, breaking windows, doors and throwing furniture from the second-floor balcony.

Safadi had been allied with outgoing Premier Saad Hariri's Western-backed coalition but is now backing the Hizbullah-backed candidate for premiership.

The incidents came amid a "day of rage" by the country's Sunni community to protest the likely appointment of billionaire businessman Najib Miqati, who hails from Tripoli, to head the next government.

Hizbullah's opponents view Miqati's candidacy as a bid by Hizbullah to impose on the Sunni community their choice for the premiership.

And because Miqati is a Sunni, protesters accused him of being a traitor to his sect and betraying Hariri.

The demonstrations followed similar protests which broke out Monday afternoon as results showed that Miqati was winning the premiership against Hariri.

Beside the largest demonstration in Tripoli, protests took place across the country, mainly in Beirut and along the main highway linking the capital with the southern port city of Sidon and in the Bekaa Valley.

Protesters blocked roads with garbage containers and set them ablaze. Others used burning tires to block traffic.

After it was clear that Miqati won the support of a majority of lawmakers Tuesday, Hariri thanked people for their support and called for restraint.

"I understand your emotions ... but this rage should not lead us to what is against our morals, faith and beliefs," he said.

The protests died down by early evening. French schools in Beirut and Tripoli announced they would shut down on Wednesday for security reasons.

An army spokesman told Agence France Presse that troops would react firmly to any further attempts to block roads.

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