A mourner holds up a picture of former Maronite Patriarch Cardinal Nasrallah Sfeir, during his funeral Mass, at the seat of the Maronite Church, in the village of Bkirki, north of Beirut. Image Credit: AP

Beirut: A leaked video showing the president of Lebanon’s Labour Union making offensive comments against late patriarch Cardinal Nasrallah Sfeir has sparked nationwide outrage and calls for his resignation.

Unaware that microphones were recording live prior to a televised press conference for the LU members, LU’s President Bechara Al Asmar was heard using foul language and making offensive comments about Cardinal Sfeir, who died last Sunday.

Al Asmar spoke about his masculinity and how he had started praying to Sfeir since he became a saint after his demise.

Gulf News has learnt from a source at the Internal Security Forces that Al Asmar and his LU colleagues who were shown in the leaked video have been summoned for questioning about the footage.

The video went viral across social media platforms shortly after it was posted on Twitter by a journalist on Friday evening. Al Asmar issued a press statement denying that he had slurred or insulted the late cardinal before retracting his denial in another statement.

In his second statement he apologised for the disdaining content of the video, called it ‘slip of the tongue’ and praised cardinal Sfeir saying that he respects him.

Political parties, politicians, ministers, union heads, media and public figures took social media to condemn what they described as Al Asmar’s ‘unacceptable and aggressive’ behaviour and called for implicating him.

There were dozens of calls for Al Asmar to resign with immediate effect as representatives of political parties in the LU called also sought dismissal. Several political parties’ representatives suspended their membership in the LU pending Al Asmar’s resignation or dismissal.

On his Twitter handle, Lebanese Minister of Labour Camille Abu Suleiman tweeted criticising Al Asmar’s act and describing it by a ‘shameful insult’ and said the Ministry will take legal action against LU’s president.

Meanwhile Patriarch Nasrallah Sfeir Foundation issued a statement denouncing Al Asmar, saying they would take legal action against seeking toughest punishment applicable.

“His words encroached on the person of the late great patriarch, it also impinged on the whole nation, the church and the family … it also violates the sanctity of death,” read the statement.

The Maronite Association in Lebanon commissioned its lawyers to lodge a criminal lawsuit against Al Asmar.

The Maronite Foundation in the World also issued a statement asking the ISF to arrest Al Asmar and forward him to justice.

According to the 34-second video, Al Asmar [seated in the middle] seemed pretty unaware that the microphone was on as he started discussing things related to his masculinity and then disdained cardinal Sfeir and offended him while addressing his colleagues [seated to his left].

Towards the video’s twentieth second, one of those sitting to Al Asmar’s left warns him saying ‘watch out the microphones might be on’ before all the panelists blasted out in laughter.

Following the incident, more than 10 members have suspended their membership in the LU pending Al Asmar’s dismissal or resignation.

Late cardinal Sfeir, an outspoken personality, served as spiritual leader of Lebanon’s largest Christian community through some of the worst days of the 1975-90 civil war.

He then played a key role in shaping the country’s postwar politics as one of the most prominent Christian leaders in the mostly Muslim region.