Lebanese protest French delay in release of leftist militant

TYRE, Lebanon Sat Jan 19, 2013 2:37pm GMT

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TYRE, Lebanon (Reuters) - More than 150 people protested outside the base of French peacekeeping forces in southern Lebanon on Saturday, demanding the release of a Lebanese leftist militant imprisoned in France for almost 30 years.

No one appeared to have been hurt, but a week of small protests around the country, including the vandalisation of a French cultural centre, could raise tensions between the two countries.

Protests were sparked by a French court's postponement of a decision on the release of 61-year-old George Abdallah until January 28. Abdallah had been granted parole earlier this month on condition of deportation from France.

Lebanon's prime minister has criticised the delay as "an unjustified step", and demanded Abdallah's quick release.

Abdallah was arrested in 1984 and sentenced to life in prison for the murder of a U.S. military attache and an Israeli diplomat.

On Saturday, protesters including members of Abdallah's family raised Lebanese flags and anti-French slogans outside a French peacekeeping compound near the coastal city of Tyre. Several tried to climb the outer walls of the base but were stopped by Lebanese forces.

France has a contingent of more than 1,000 in the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), which has about 12,000 troops in all. It has been deployed since 1978 to watch the border between Lebanon and Israel, which remain technically in a state of war.

Lebanon's interior ministry assured the French embassy on Friday that it was taking measures to protect French interests.

(Reporting by Hussein Saad, editing by Mark Trevelyan)

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