Salafi leader draws over 1,000 at Beirut rally
Sidon's controversial Salafi leader Sheikh Ahmad al-Assir accused the United States of providing cover for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to commit massacres during a downtown Beirut rally earlier this evening.
The demonstration, called to protest the US-produced anti-Islam film and French cartoons, drew over 1,000 of the sheikh's supporters waving black and green Islamic flags. They also carried the Turkish flag and the flag of the Syrian opposition, but no Lebanese flag, an Al-Akhbar correspondent said.
The demonstrators chanted anti-Syrian regime slogans and began to shout at every mention of its leader, the correspondent added.
In his fiery diatribe, al-Assir launched a thinly-veiled attack on Hezbollah, the popular Shia movement which backs the Syrian government.
"Anyone who raises Bashar al-Assad's photo is insulting the Prophet," al-Assir said, in reference to separate demonstrations where some supporters of Hezbollah and its ally Amal carried pictures of the Syrian leader.
He added: "Supporters of Bashar al-Assad say: 'There is no god but Bashar,'" as opposed to the traditional Islamic verse, "There is no god but God."
The sheikh said the United States and France had disrespected Islam by allowing the film and cartoons that mock the Prophet Mohammad to be published.
The rally abruptly ended after calls to prayer began as the men turned away from the speaker and approached the Mohammad al-Amin mosque.
Earlier at the rally, Farid Dakkan, a Christian journalist, told the crowd that the anti-Islam film also disrespected Christianity.
Lebanese singer Fadl Shaker also made an appearance at the rally where he performed a number of religious songs.