Hard-line Lebanese Sunni cleric releases audio

BEIRUT (AP) — A hard-line Sunni cleric who disappeared during a shootout with the Lebanese army in the coastal city of Sidon has released an audio confirming he is alive.

In the recording released Thursday on the Internet, Sheik Ahmad al-Assir accuses the army of conspiring with the militant Shiite Muslim Hezbollah against him.

He called on his supporters to stage mass protests Friday.

Al-Assir did not disclose his whereabouts. Relatives in Sidon confirmed it was his voice.

Eighteen soldiers were killed in the clashes with al-Assir’s armed supporters last month in Sidon.

A military prosecutor has charged him and more than two dozen of his supporters with forming an armed group, undermining the military and stirring up sectarian hatred. Among those charged were 10 people still at large — including al-Assir.

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