Thu, Jan 25, 2007 - Page 7 News List

Three killed, Beirut shaken as protests turn violent

AFP , BEIRUT

A Lebanese Hezbollah supporter burns tires in Sidon, Lebanon, on Tuesday.

PHOTO: EPA

Three people were killed and 133 wounded in factional fighting in Lebanon on Tuesday as opposition protesters staged a nationwide strike, blocking roads with burning tires in the latest show of force aimed at ousting the Western-backed government.

Police said the protests erupted into violence as pro-government supporters fought street battles with followers of the opposition led by the pro-Syrian militant party Hezbollah.

Three people were killed in the northern port cities of Tripoli and Batroun, while 133 were wounded in armed clashes, fistfights and stone-throwing in various areas of the country, brought to its knees by the one-day general strike.

The violence added to concerns over the stability of a country still bearing the scars of the 1975 to 1990 civil war and last summer's massive Israeli offensive against Hezbollah.

Prime Minister Fuad Siniora warned that the government and the army will not be "lenient with any attempts to disrupt public order, civil peace and the respect of the law."

"The strike was transformed into acts and incitements which exceeded all limits and reminded of the era of discord, war and tutelage," he said, referring to the 29-year Syrian military domination of the country until 2005.

After a day of widespread violence, the demonstrations eased by nightfall and the army began clearing blocked roads across the country.

Late on Tuesday night, the opposition said it was ending the action.

"The opposition has decided to suspend the strike which served as a warning to the illegitimate government" of Siniora, it said in a statement broadcast on local TV stations.

During the day, troops and police were out in force for the action, which was denounced by the government as a "coup attempt" by the opposition movement spearheaded by Hezbollah.

Thick clouds of smoke billowed over the capital and other cities as demonstrators blocked roads by burning tires and old cars, and spreading sand and rubble.

Militants also cut road access to Beirut airport in an escalation of the protest that has crippled the Siniora administration for weeks.

A source at Beirut international airport said that 34 flights had been cancelled while many arriving passengers were stranded at the airport due to the road into the city being blocked.

The US accused Syrian-backed factions in Lebanon of trying to impose their will by violence and intimidation.

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