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Lebanese PM to stay on temporarily amid fears of unrest

Lebanon’s president has declined to accept the prime minister’s resignation following Friday’s bombing in Beirut. The attack killed several people, including a senior security official and led to mass street protests.

Prime Minister Najib Mikati told reporters in Beirut that he had tendered his resignation to President Michel Suleiman, but that the head of state had asked him to stay on as this would be in the best interests of the country.

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Lebanon observes day of national mourning

"I accepted (the president's request) as there is a fear that Lebanon will fall into unrest," the prime minister said. At the same time, though, he stressed the desire to leave the post in the foreseeable future.

"Today, I am saying more and more that there should be a national consensus government," Mikati said. "The cabinet will eventually resign, but at the moment we must take a national stance, and I call on the Lebanese to unite together."

Opposition politicians demanded that the government, which includes ministers from the militant group Hezbollah, to step down over Friday's bombing in the Lebanese capital. The bombing killed at least three people, including Brigadier-General Wissam al-Hassan. Many others were injured.

Assad regime blamed

The prime minister joined a number of other politicians in accusing Syrian President Bashar Assad of being behind Friday's attacks. Mikati said he suspected it was related to the indictment of a former cabinet minister over an alleged Syrian plot aimed at stoking violence in Lebanon.

"A prime minister does not anticipate investigations, but quite honestly...I cannot separate in any way the crime that took place yesterday, and the discovery of the conspiracy against Lebanon in August," Mikati said.

An undated handout picture released by the media office of the Lebanese internal security forces shows the head of the Information Branch in Lebanon's Internal Security Forces (ISF), Wissam al-Hassan, who was killed in a car bomb blast in Beirut, Lebanon, 19 October 2012.

Al-Hassan is thought to have been the target of the bombing

Syria's government has condemned the bombing, describing it as a "terrorist, cowardly" attack.

National day of mourning

Hassan's killing sparked demonstrations in mainly Sunni Muslim areas of Beirut, the southern city of Sidon and the northern city of Tripoli. In some cases, angry protesters used burning tires to block off roads.

It was one of the highest-profile killings to hit Lebanon since the assassination of former prime minister Rafiq al-Hariri in 2005. International outcry over that attack eventually persuaded Syria to withdraw its troops from Lebanon, for the first time since the country's 1975-1990 civil war. No one has ever been tried for Hariri's murder, but a UN-backed tribunal accused four members of Hezbollah.

The Lebanese government declared Saturday an official day of mourning, and a big turnout is expected for Hassan's funeral, to be held in central Beirut on Sunday.

pfd/slk (Reuters, AFP, dpa)

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