Lebanese ally of Syria's Assad detained

BEIRUT Thu Aug 9, 2012 11:48am EDT

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BEIRUT (Reuters) - A former Lebanese government minister with close ties to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad was detained near Beirut on Thursday for questioning over what the Lebanese prime minister described as security-related matters.

Michel Samaha was taken into custody in the early hours. There were no official details of what he was being questioned about. His supporters said his detention was political, asking why he had been detained in the middle of the night.

Elias Aoun, head of the Lebanese journalists' union, said Prime Minister Najib Mikati had told him Samaha had been held following an order from the acting public prosecutor.

Investigators had confiscated "three or four telephones, a laptop and two or three films" while searching his house in the town of Metn northeast of Beirut, Malek al-Sayyed, a lawyer for Samaha, told al-Manar TV.

Samaha has been an outspoken supporter of Assad during the 17-month-old uprising against his rule, echoing an official Syrian narrative that portrays the anti-Assad opposition as terrorists.

He served as a minister in three Lebanese governments between 1992 and 2004 - a period when Syria dominated politics and security in its smaller neighbour. Samaha is also a former member of parliament.

In 2007, he was named on a White House-issued list of Lebanese and Syrian figures suspected of working to undermine Lebanon's stability and the Western-backed Beirut government in office at the time.

The list included Assef Shawkat, a senior Syrian security official and Assad's brother-in-law, who was killed in a bomb blast in Damascus last month.

Further details on Samaha's detention were not immediately available. Live television footage showed members of the security forces searching his house.

(Writing by Tom Perry; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

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