Lebanese troops ended Thursday, March 15, their occupation of the country's most popular television station and released nine employees they had detained when moving in after a dispute between shareholders, the channel's management said.
The released employees — cameramen, sound engineers, technicians and night guards — were sent home on the condition that they stay there, the announcement said.
On Monday, troops deployed in and around the Lebanese Broadcasting Corporation International (LBCI) building in the capital's northern suburbs. They had moved in after a scuffle between groups of employees on opposite sides of a dispute between management and minority shareholders.
The dispute erupted after Pierre Daher, who owns 49 percent of the channel, founded by anti-Syrian former militia leader Samir Geagea, tried to sack security guards appointed by pro-Syrian health minister and minority LBCI shareholder Soleiman Frangie.
Daher acted after winning a court case against Frangie and Deputy Prime Minister Issam Fares, who each own 10 percent of LBCI. The two had tried to appoint a censor to vet news bulletins and programs with a political content before they were transmitted.
Asked about how the army became involved, Daher said: "When I last met with minister Frangie, we both wondered who had called the army in."
Daher denied that any of the employees had been armed at the time of the scuffle. In contrast, the army said on Wednesday that it had moved in to control the situation after armed men tried to oust the security guards.
The television station transmitted normally throughout the military occupation, but the situation was described as tense.
Information Minister Ghazi Aridi denounced Wednesday the "presence of security elements inside the rooms and the offices of the institution, a matter that obstructs work in it and creates an atmosphere of pressure in a direct or indirect manner on the employees."
Melhem Karam, president of the Journalists' Union, condemned the arrests.
Pro-Syrian Christian politicians became minority shareholders in LBCI in less-than-transparent circumstances following Geagea's arrest in 1994.
He was the only wartime militia leader to have been tried since the country's 1975-1990 civil war ended, leaving Syria in effective control of Lebanon, where it has 35,000 troops. — (AFP, Beirut)
© Agence France Presse 2001
© 2001 Mena Report (www.menareport.com)