Yesterday downtown Beirut saw some serious clashes between police and Muslim rioters who eventually succeded in burning the Danish Consulate in protest against the cartoons ridiculing the Prophet in Danish newspapers last autumn. The events are widely condemned by all leaders and especially by Muslim clerics who actively tried to intervene and stop the protesters from rioting.
The BBC, citing no evidence, suggests that the escalation was planned beforehand in this article: www.guardian.co.uk/frontpage/story/0,,1703239,00.html The almost exact same demostration took place the day before in Damascus. Some commentators have rightly pointed out that no demonstration ever takes place in Syria without the government wanting it, ar at least tacitly approving of it. That people were bussed in for a demonstration in Beirut is true. But there is another fact suggesting that some outside meddling took place: Arrested at the riot were some 70 Syrians, 35 Palstinians, 20 Bedouins or Stateless, and only 35 Lebanese. Historically the Syrians have profed to be adept at mobilising the disenfranchised for their own ends.
In summary there was considerable damage. I heard one policeman died, several cars were burnt and shops broken. Also the windows of St. George Church in Beirut were broken with stones. The violence took place in Achrafiye, the heartland of the Lebanese Forces in Beirut. The LF are a right wing Christian militia who have their own dirty record from the war, in any case not someone to be messed with. What happened yesterday would have easily been enough to kick of a series of vengeance attacks, leade to renewed escalation and civil strife. The fact that there was no immediate response on the street may show that people are ready to exercise restraint and that they sense there is something fishy about these riots. As my colleague put it: It was the ultimate match to light up a fire and it didn’t work.