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Hundreds protest against SSNP attack on Future TV journalist

| 30.11,08. 01:40 PM |

BEIRUT: Hundreds of protestors turned out Friday to demonstrate against Thursday's attack on Future TV journalist Omar Harqous by Syrian Social National Party (SSNP) membersJournalists, politicians and charity workers took part in an hour-long sit-in at the car-park of Future TV's headquarters in Qantari, where a giant photograph of Harqous lying in his hospital bed after the attack took place was displayed.

Harqous was set upon by SSNP supporters after arriving in Hamra Street on Thursday to report on the removal of political posters linked to the party. He was beaten with sticks, suffering injuries to the head, chest and neck before being rushed to the American University Hospital's emergency wing for treatment for bone fractures and bruises.

The SSNP posters had not been taken down in Hamra despite an agreement made in September to remove political posters from all parties in Beirut a bid to reduce tension in the capital. 

Beirut Municipality officials were trying to take down the posters in the face of opposition from SSNP members when the attack on the journalist occurred. FTV claimed that 15 men had beaten Harqous, but the SSNP said only one of its members had been involved. 

The Lebanese army command issued a statement on Friday which said that "three suspects in the attack on Harqous have been arrested."

Harqous told FTV last night that he had been warned by the men that he would be targeted if he did not leave the area.

But when he turned away, he was hit from behind while being called a "Jew" by his assailants, he said.

The attack has provoked condemnation from across the political spectrum.

MP Elias Atallah said that the attack had been carried out by a "militia that is a branch of Syrian intelligence."

Parliamentary majority leader Saad Hariri, whose anti-Syrian Future movement owns FTV, said after the attack that it was a reminder of the events of May 7, when opposition gunmen forced the closureof FTV's Raouche office for several days.

Hizbullah also criticized the attack in a statement released on Friday.

"We condemn any attack on journalists doing their job and we call for the matter to be left in the hands of the legal authorities and for calm to be maintained," the statement said. 

Information Minister Tarek Mitri said on Friday that there was no excuse for the attack on the journalist. Any attempt to justify it, Mitri said, was even "uglier than the attack itself."

Before leaving for a foreign trip, Interior Minister Ziyad Baroud assigned the investigation into the Harqous incident to Lebanon's top police officer, Beirut police chief Brigadier General Nabil Merhi.

The SSNP released a statement saying the man responsible for attacking Harqous had been handed over to authorities and wishing the journalist a quick recovery.

But they also condemned the March 14 bloc for what they called "the cheap methods" used to "exploit the event and issues escalating insults against the SSNP and its leadership."

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