Opposition protesters paralyzed Lebanon yesterday by setting fire to tires and cars at major thoroughfares in the capital and its approaches to enforce a general strike that aims to topple the government.
Clustering in small groups to man the blazing roadblocks, opposition supporters escalated their nearly two-month protest. Commuters were stranded and business came to a halt in many districts.
Scattered violence was reported involving stone throwing, fist fights and even firing of guns. Police said 14 people sustained gunshot wounds in disturbances between opposition supporters and pro-government activists in central and northern Lebanon. Michel Aoun, a senior opposition leader, told al-Arabiya television that the seven wounded were opposition members.
Several people were injured in scuffles in neighborhoods of Beirut, Lebanon's capital, as well as in central, eastern and northern Lebanon.
Police and troops deployed in their thousands across the country worked to open roads, sometimes negotiating with protesters, but they refrained from using force. In some instances, the military separated the two opposing sides and managed to open some roads.
Troops brandishing automatic rifles and batons kept hundreds of people from each side separated and away from motorists, and made a few arrests on the coastal highway north of Beirut near the Christian port city of Jounieh. Shots were fired in the air, apparently by security forces to disperse the crowds.
Clashes took place in areas of the capital and around the country where residents are divided between government supporters and opposition forces. Places spared the incidents tend to be home to mainly one side or the other of the political divide.
Hezbollah chief Sheik Hassan Nasrallah and other opposition leaders called the strike, which was backed by labor unions. Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Saniora and his supporters urged Lebanese to ignore the call, a move endorsed by banking associations and business leaders.