Lebanon's Baalbek festival moved to another venue
BEIRUT - Lebanon's renowned Baalbek International Festival, normally held in the town's spectacular Roman ruins, is to move to an alternative venue in the face of a spillover of violence from neighbouring Syria, organisers said on Friday.
American soprano Renee Fleming, the festival's headline act, has also cancelled her participation in the festival, one of the Arab world's leading cultural events and a point of pride for Lebanon.
"As as result of the security situation, we cannot organise the festival in the temple this year," the festival's press office said.
"We are holding meetings with authorities to find another location, aware that it is very difficult to find a similarly wonderful setting."
The decision to change venue will also force a delay, and the festival is now scheduled to begin on August 9, instead of June 30.
The disruption to the festival comes as Lebanon finds itself increasingly affected by the war raging in its larger neighbour Syria.
Rockets fired from inside Syria have hit border areas near the Baalbek ruins, which lie in a stronghold of the Shiite Hezbollah movement.
Hezbollah is a key ally of the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and has dispatched fighters to battle alongside the Syrian army against rebels seeking to overthrow him.
Hezbollah's intervention has raised tensions in Lebanon, where many Sunnis back the Sunni-led uprising against Assad, whose Alawite faith is an offshoot of Shiite Islam.
The Baalbek festival was cancelled during Hezbollah's devastating war with Israel in 2006, but this is thought to be the first year that it has switched venue.
The Baalbek ruins, which include the striking Temple of Jupiter and well-preserved Temple of Bacchus, are a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
"We are really disappointed," the festival's press office said, adding that some acts had been designed specifically for performance in the ruins.
"Renee Fleming cancelled even before the situation got worse," the press office said, adding that other performers had, however, confirmed their attendance.
Among the acts booked for this year are British singer Marianne Faithfull and Brazilian pianist and singer Eliane Elias.
Launched in 1956 during what is often thought of as Lebanon's Golden Age, the Baalbek festival was halted at the start of the 1975-1990 civil war and did not resume until 1997.
It has hosted figures including dancer Rudolph Nureyev, British singer Sting and American jazz legend Ella Fitzgerald.
Lebanon's other main summer festivals, including the Beiteddine festival in the Chouf mountains and the Byblos festival on the Mediterranean coast, are expected to go ahead as planned.