Lebanese court bails anti-Syrian activist

BEIRUT Tue May 22, 2012 7:00am EDT

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BEIRUT (Reuters) - A court on Tuesday released on bail an anti-Syrian activist whose arrest earlier this month set off violent clashes in northern Lebanon that killed at least 8 people.

The fighting among Sunni Islamist foes of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, the Lebanese army and members of Assad's minority sect in the northern port of Tripoli highlighted the potential of Syria's 14-month-old uprising to unsettle the sect-based politics of its smaller neighbor.

The fighting erupted after Lebanese authorities arrested Shadi al-Moulawi, who Sunni Islamists in Tripoli say was aiding Syrian refugees in northern Lebanon. He was subsequently charged with membership of a "terrorist" organization.

A judicial source said Moulawi was released on bail of 500,000 Lebanese pounds ($333) and forbidden to leave the country, adding the charge leveled against him by a military prosecutor stood.

Syria, which has demanded Lebanon cut the cross-border flow of arms to insurgents, has long-standing influence in parts of Lebanon's security apparatus, military and judiciary, dating back to the Lebanese civil war and its aftermath.

Tripoli is a stronghold of Sunni Islamist sentiment and much of the population backs the insurgency against Assad - led by members of Syria's Sunni majority - which has sprung up alongside mass protests that erupted in Syria in March 2011.

Anger over Moulawi's arrest led Islamists in the north onto the streets, where confrontations with the Lebanese military came to include residents of a Tripoli district that is home to members of Assad's Alawite sect.

The unrest has also spread to Beirut, where two people were killed on Monday in fighting between gunmen from the Future Movement, loyal to anti-Assad former prime minister Saad al-Hariri, and members of a pro-Assad party.

(Reporting by Dominic Evans; Writing by Joseph Logan; Editing by Janet Lawrence)

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