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Ashton warns of Lebanon danger

EU foreign policy head Catherine Ashton has met with the president and prime minister of crisis-hit Lebanon. While she backed the country's leadership, she also expressed serious fears about the country's stability.

European High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Catherine Ashton expressed concern on Tuesday about Lebanon's volatile political situation after opponents of the prime minister demanded he step down over a bomb attack blamed on Syria.

"This attack is a terrible thing; we are concerned about the stability of Lebanon," Ashton was quoted as saying following a meeting with Prime Minister Najib Mikati.

Ashton also said, without going into specifics, that "there are some who are trying to divert attention from the situation in the region by causing problems in Lebanon," according to the National News Agency (NNA).

Europe's top foreign policy figure Ashton, who was in Lebanon to engage in talks with both the prime minister and Lebanese President Michel Suleima, articulated strong support for Prime Minister Mikati, according to Lebanon's state-run news agency. She also applauded his handling of the precarious situation in Lebanon.

“We commend Mikati's stance aimed at protecting Lebanon's cohesion and its unity amid these difficult circumstances," Ashton said.

Certain Lebanese opposition groups have called on Mikati to resign over Hassan's death.

Lebanese President Michel Suleiman, during his talks with Ashton, also called on the EU to help his country to attend to the thousands of Syrian refugees who have fled over the border to Lebanon. The UN refugee agency has put the figure at more than 100,000.

Suspicions and violence

Lebanese politics was plunged into turmoil last week after a car bomb in the capital, Beirut, killed eight on Friday. They included the country's head of police intelligence, General Wissam Hassan. Hassan had overseen a number of investigations implicating the Syrian regime in political assassinations in Lebanon and his death.

Suspicions about Hassan's murder soared after comments from a Lebanese member of parliament, Ammar Houry, who is a member of a Lebanese political bloc opposing the regime of President Bashar Assad in Syria.

"On the eve of the attack, we received an SMS from a Syrian number that read: 'Sons of bitches, we will get you one by one,’" Houry said on Monday. After Hassan's death, Houry said there was another message. "We received a second SMS that read: 'Congratulations, the countdown has begun. One of 10 eliminated.'"

The murder of the intelligence chief sparked violence in Lebanon, raising fears that inter-confessional violence could escalate. At least 11 people have died in fighting between groups backing and opposing the Syrian regime in Tripoli, a northern city in Lebanon since last week. The city hosts some Alawites, who adhere to the same offshoot of Shiism as Assad.

sej/rc (dpa, AFP)