Shiite Muslims protest over comedy show

By SAM F. GHATTAS, Associated Press Writer
1 hour, 56 minutes ago

BEIRUT, Lebanon - Thousands of Shiite Muslims enraged by a TV comedy that mocked the leader of Hezbollah took to the streets of southern Beirut on Thursday night, burning car tires and blocking roads, police and witneses said.

The trouble began after an actor spoofed Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, wearing the Hezbollah leader's trademark black turban and sporting a similar beard and spectacles on a TV show on Lebanese Broadcasting Corp, a privately-owned Christian channel.

Thousands of Hezbollah supporters went into the streets of southern Beirut, the stronghold of Hezbollah. They carried pictures of Nasrallah and shouted support. They blocked the road to the airport, but officials said the country's only air facility remained open.

The unrest spread to other Shiite neighborhoods of Beirut, where rioters blocked roads and burned car tires, including the highway to Lebanon's international airport, the officials said. Troops blocked roads in the commercial center in downtown Beirut to stop Hezbollah supporters riding on motorcycles from reaching the area.

Pro-Nasrallah protests also erupted in southern and eastern Lebanon, predominantly Shiite parts of the country where Hezbollah enjoys wide support, TV stations said.

The protests reflected the tension between pro- and anti-Syrian camps. Hezbollah, backed by Syria and Iran, has been accused by the anti-Syrian legislative majority of doing the bidding of Syria after Damascus was forced to pull its army from Lebanon 13 months ago.

Syrian troops left under international pressure in the wake of the assassination of former Premier Rafik Hariri. Pro-Syrian factions accuse the parliamentary majority of working for the United States.

A Hezbollah broadcast said the TV show had "insulted the symbol of the resistance and its leader."

Hezbollah enjoys wide support among Lebanon's Shiite community of 1.2 million people, believed to be the largest sect in this nation of 3.5 million people.

Guerrillas of Hezbollah, which the United States lists as terrorist organization, frequently clash with Israeli forces along the south Lebanese border. The group has rejected international and domestic calls to disarm, saying weapons are needed to defend Lebanon against possible Israeli attack.

-Do you have to have your sense of humor surgically removed when you become a muslim?

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