BEIRUT, Aug 7 (AFP) - The Lebanese army's intelligence services Tuesday arrested a high-ranking official of the banned Lebanese Forces (LF) Christian militia, Toufic Hindi, as well as members of another party in the country's Christian opposition, politicians said.
An army officer who introduced himself as Colonel Georges Sawaya, from the army's intelligence services, came to Hindi's home with two other officers and a civilian but no warrant, Hindi's entourage said.
They did not allow him to make telephone calls and took him to an unknown destination and gave no explanation.
The leader of the National Liberal Party (NLP), Dory Chamoun, confirmed to AFP that Hindi had been arrested, as well as retired general Nadim Lteif, the coordinator of the Free National Current (FNC), another party in Lebanon's Christian opposition.
He called on "all parties who have a love of freedom to condemn these schemes".
Liberal MP Nassib Lahoud also confirmed the arrests, called for their "immediate release" and slammed what he said were "roundups aimed at people who have done nothing but express their political opinions, and which are not worthy of a state which calls itself democratic".
The Future Television network, which belongs to Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri, said some 40 members of the LF and the aounist party as well as dozens of their supporters have been arrested.
The army warned in a statement "those who use the atmosphere of freedom to jeopardise stability by attacking the (country's) leaders".
The statement said helicopters would fly over the region between Beirut and the Christian town of Jounieh, 20 kilometres (12 miles) to the south. The statement gave no further explanation.
The FNC, which supports the former Christian and anti-Syrian Lebanese prime minister General Michel Aoun, announced earlier the arrests of 19 aounist students by the intelligence services.
Six aounist students were arrested Sunday and the others Tuesday, the pro-Aoun party said in a statement.
A judicial source confirmed to AFP that students had recently been arrested on charges of "handing out flyers against President Emile Lahoud and the army", but did not specify the number of arrests.
The source said four of the students are to be heard by the Beirut military court on Wednesday.
The case of Ziad Elie Nader, 16, will be treated by a juvenile court.
These arrests come two days after Maronite Patriarch Nasrallah Sfeir wrapped up his triumphant reconciliation tour in the Druze-Christian region of the Shouf mountains.
A professor of mathematics at the Lebanese University in Beirut, Hindi is seen as one of the main ideologists of the former Lebanese Forces Christian militia which was dissolved in 1994, and was LF leader Samir Geagea's political advisor until the latter's arrest the same year.
Hindi is perceived in Lebanon's political circles as a man of dialogue. He never took part in military operations during the 1975-1990 civil war and is close to Sfeir.
Over the past few months, the aounist movement, which is fiercely opposed to Syrian presence in Lebanon, stepped up its campaign against Damascus with demonstrations and flyers accusing the authorities of being "collaborators".
Aoun, who declared in 1989 a "war of liberation against the Syrian occupier", has lived in exile in Paris since he was ousted by a Syrian military offensive in 1990.