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Protesters close Beirut Starbucks branch

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

By BASSEM MROUE, Associated Press Writer

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BEIRUT, Lebanon — 

About one hundred demonstrators angry with Israel's offensive in the Gaza Strip shut down a Starbucks store Tuesday, shouting anti-Israel slogans and causing customers inside to flee.

The protest in Beirut is the latest of a series of demonstrations across the Arab world since Israel launched its offensive, designed to stop Hamas rocket fire into Israel, on Dec. 27; more than 900 Palestinians have been killed in the fighting.

The protesters said they targeted the store because they claim that Howard Schultz, the company's CEO, chairman and president, donates money to the Israeli military. A spokeswoman for the Seattle, Washington-based conglomerate called accusations Starbucks supports Israel "false" and said the political preferences of one of its employees has no bearing on the company's policies.

The demonstrators hung several banners on the shop's window and used white tape to paste a Star of David over the green-and-white Starbucks sign.

The protesters also distributed a letter saying Schultz "is one of the pillars of the American Jewish lobby and the owner of the Starbucks," which they said donates money to the Israeli military.

Starbucks is a publicly traded company, with stores in 49 countries.

A company spokeswoman Tuesday referred questions to a company statement released earlier this month in which the company said "rumors that Starbucks Coffee Company and its management support Israel are unequivocally false."

"Starbucks is a non-political organization and does not support political causes. Further, the political preferences of a Starbucks partner (employee) at any level have absolutely no bearing on Starbucks company policies," the statement read.

Trevino also referred questions about the Beirut protest to the company's partner in the Middle East, Kuwait-based M.H. Alshaya Co. The Middle East stores are not directly owned by Starbucks but are licensed by M.H. Alshaya, she said.

Repeated calls by The Associated Press to M.H. Alshaya went unanswered late Tuesday.

Starbucks has been operating in Lebanon for several years and has 16 branches around the country, according to the company's Web site.

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Associated Press writers Hussein Malla in Beirut and Phuong Le, in Seattle, Washington contributed to this report.

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