Open

Coming up

Don't miss

Replay


LATEST SHOWS

THE INTERVIEW

Michel Sidibé, UNAIDS Executive Director

Read more

TALKING EUROPE

Dalia Grybauskaite, President of the Republic of Lithuania

Read more

WEB NEWS

Online scammers exploit MH17 crash

Read more

MEDIAWATCH

Too many graphic images from Gaza ?

Read more

MEDIAWATCH

Gaza: online reactions

Read more

BUSINESS DAILY

Rise of the Robots

Read more

FOCUS

Overfishing and the global appetite for bluefin tuna: can Tokyo turn the tide?

Read more

DEBATE

Israel-Gaza, From Bad to Worse? With no Ceasefire in Sight, Conflict Spillover Felt Elsewhere (part 2)

Read more

DEBATE

Israel-Gaza, From Bad to Worse? With no Ceasefire in Sight, Conflict Spillover Felt Elsewhere

Read more

  • Hollande says French warship delivery will ‘depend on Russia’s attitude’

    Read more

  • Israeli soldier missing in Gaza, say media reports

    Read more

  • Ukraine rebels release bodies, black boxes from flight MH17

    Read more

  • A call for harmony in riot-hit ‘Little Jerusalem’ Paris suburb

    Read more

  • Widodo poised to become Indonesian president

    Read more

  • An ‘explosion of violence’: French press reacts to Gaza protests

    Read more

  • Notorious ‘VIP’ prison in Paris closed for renovations

    Read more

  • Christians in Iraq's Mosul face execution or exodus

    Read more

  • Scores killed as Libyan militias fight over airport

    Read more

  • Ukraine football players refuse to return home after friendly in France

    Read more

  • China steps up communist education to guard against ‘moral decline’

    Read more

  • French rugby stars attacked with machetes and swords

    Read more

  • Hollande announces new military operation in West Africa

    Read more

  • Kristoff wins Tour’s flat Stage 15

    Read more

Middle east

Thousands cheer Iranian leader on Lebanese visit

Text by Marc DAOU

Latest update : 2010-10-13

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad arrived to a rapturous welcome in Lebanon on Wednesday for a controversial two-day visit that will take him to the country's south, a region dominated by Iran's ally Hezbollah.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad began Wednesday a two-day official visit to Lebanon, where he was warmly greeted by thousands of Lebanese. A crowd of mainly Shiite Hezbollah supporters gathered along the highway leading to Beirut airport, waving the colours of Iran. Balloons and posters of the Iranian head of state fluttered along the route, which passes through Beirut’s Hezbollah-controlled southern suburbs.

"Hezbollah’s supporters welcomed Ahmadinejad like a hero, throwing rice on him, jostling to see the presidential motorcade advancing," says Isabelle Dellerba, FRANCE 24 correspondent in Lebanon. The Iranian president spent a long time waving to the crowd, in "an incredible and unprecedented scene for a foreign head of state visiting Lebanon," she added.

Upon his arrival in Beirut, he was welcomed by members of parliament, two Hezbollah ministers in the national unity government and Nabih Berri, the Shiite Speaker of the Parliament and a Hezbollah ally. He then headed towards the presidential palace of Baabda, near Beirut, to an official welcome by Lebanese President Michel Sleiman, a Maronite Christian.

"We support a strong and unified Lebanon. We will always back the Lebanese government and its nation," he said, standing alongside Sleiman.

Significant economic cooperation agreements should be signed by both parties, particularly in energy. Ahmadinejad is due to deliver a speech this afternoon at a Hezbollah rally in Beirut’s southern suburbs, which Hezbollah secretary-general Hassan Nasrallah is expected to attend. Nasrallah has not appeared in public since 2006, but was last spotted a few days ago planting a tree in his front yard.

A controversial visit

But the Iranian leader is far from being unanimously welcomed in Beirut. When this first official visit was confirmed in August, it sparked a controversy among political leaders and divided Lebanese public opinion.

"This visit can only damage the image of Lebanon, which is receiving a head of state who is in open conflict with the international community and is rejected even within his country after a disputed re-election," said Samir Frangie to France24.com. Frangie is a former MP and a member of the majority political alliance in Lebanon’s parliament.

On Thursday Ahmadinejad is due to visit the Hezbollah stronghold in southern Lebanon, near the border with Israel. "The Iranian president will spend a lot of time with Hezbollah, the Shiite party that Iran supports militarily, financially and ideologically. Together they should reaffirm their commitment to continue fighting against Israel," said FRANCE 24's Dellerba.

This gesture is seen as a "provocation" by the Lebanese parliamentary majority. "His presence near the border looks like a provocation, and the Jewish state can use the visit to strike a blow to [Lebanon’s] stability," said Frangie.

Hezbollah certainly does not see things the same way. "The Iranian president's visit is proof of the friendship and support that Tehran gives to Lebanon, be it to the resistance, the military or to institutions," declared Hezbollah’s number two Naim Kassem, on Monday. Founded in 1982 under the leadership of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards to fight the Israeli invasion of southern Lebanon, the "party of God" has never hidden its affiliation with the Iranian regime.

'Ahmadinejad is not an ordinary president'

Despite the withdrawal of Israeli troops in 2000 after 22 years of occupation, Hezbollah has maintained its arsenal in the name of "resistance against the Zionist enemy." Since then, Lebanon’s only armed party has been suspected by its detractors of wanting to extend Iranian influence in the country, short of establishing an Islamic regime. It is also accused of being an advance base for Iran in the Middle East and to base its agenda on Tehran's; charges that Hezbollah leaders deny.

"Ahmadinejad is not an ordinary president (...). In declaring a few years ago that Lebanon would be the cemetery of the United States or that the destruction of Israel would pass through the land of cedars [Lebanon], he saddled the country with a burden it cannot support," concluded Frangie.

Date created : 2010-10-13

  • SYRIA - LEBANON

    Syria seeks arrests over Hariri probe

    Read more

  • LEBANON

    Hezbollah chief accuses Israel of PM Hariri’s assassination

    Read more

COMMENT(S)