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Bodyguard killed after police target Lebanon ex-minister

JAHLIYEH, Lebanon: Former Lebanese minister Wiam Wahhab speaks during the funeral of his bodyguard Mohammed Abu Diab in this village in Mount Lebanon yesterday. – AFP

BEIRUT: A Lebanese police raid on the home of a former minister close to the powerful Hezbollah movement left a bodyguard dead yesterday, as tensions with prime minister-designate Saad Hariri heightened. Politician Wiam Wahhab, an ally of the Syrian regime, had refused to attend an official questioning following a complaint over angry insults he made against Hariri and his parents. Footage of the diatribe sparked protests from the premier’s supporters at a time when Lebanon’s squabbling leaders are deadlocked over the formation of a new government.

Shots were fired during a raid by security officials on Wahhab’s home in the Druze village of Jahliyeh on Saturday, with close associate Mohammed Abu Diab ending up wounded. Abu Diab died of his injuries yesterday and was buried in the mountain village. Wahhab, a former minister of the environment, blamed the authorities for his bodyguard’s death but Lebanon’s Internal Security Force said the fatal shots were fired by the politician’s supporters.

Wahhab said on Saturday the incident meant “civil war” but yesterday urged calm while addressing Abu Diyab’s funeral. “I am working to calm the atmosphere. I have (told) the guys it is forbidden to block roads or to annoy any citizen or to open fire during the funeral,” Wahhab told Al-Jadeed TV. Wahhab accused officials including Hariri of responsibility for the killing. A source close to Hariri, referring to Saturday’s events, said: “These were judicial proceedings in which we had no intervention”.

Wahhab has said his comments in the video, which appeared to have been shot by mobile phone at a private gathering, were “general” and not directed at Rafiq Al-Hariri. Hariri’s Future Movement said last week the Hariris were being targeted by “a campaign of falsehoods” hatched by “sick minds” bent on destabilizing Lebanon and obstructing efforts to form the new government.

Hariri was nominated for his third term as prime minister in May but the long-awaited formation of a government has been delayed by six months of wrangling. The premier-designate last month accused Shiite movement Hezbollah of impeding the formation of the cabinet. Hezbollah has pushed for Sunni politicians allied to the Shiite movement but opposed to Hariri to be represented in the future cabinet. Hariri, a leading Sunni politician, has refused to give up a portfolio that would otherwise go to his own party.

Hezbollah is the only political party not to have disarmed after Lebanon’s 1975-1990 civil war, and has backed the Syrian regime in the war-torn country next door. Government formation is often a drawn-out process in Lebanon, where a complex governing system seeks to maintain a precarious balance of power between its various political and religious communities. – Agencies

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