Protestors burned tires and blocked main roads in Beirut and elsewhere in Lebanon in a violent “general strike” against Prime Minister Fouad Siniora’s government.
Violent clashes left three people dead and at least 133 injured, including five government activists, as Hizbullah-backed demonstrators clashed with the Western-backed government’s security forces.
One of the victims was a member of the Christian Lebanese Forces party who was shot to death in a gunfight north of Beirut, according to police sources. Hizbullah organizers drove around the country on motorcycles, wearing black masks with walkie-talkies strapped to their mouths.
Black smoke blanketed the city, and all regular activities were brought to a standstill by the strike. Police sources said at least 14 people were shot in gunfights in the northern and central sections of the city. Demonstrators also cut off the main road to Beirut’s international airport, resulting in flight cancellations.
The prime minister condemned the violence, saying “Today’s general strike turned into actions and harassment that overstepped all limits and rekindled memories of times of strife, war and hegemony.”
Siniora vowed to retain control of the government. “We [the Lebanese people] will stand together against intimidation... together against strife,” he said in a televised speech, adding that if necessary, he would consider other measures.
“The duty of the army and security forces does not allow any flexibility or compromise regarding the public interest, order and civic peace,” he warned.
Hizbullah terrorists were also responsible for the kidnapping of two IDF reservists on Israel’s border with Lebanon last summer, sparking a 34-day war that left hundreds dead and thousands wounded on both sides. The two IDF soldiers, Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev, have not been heard from since their abduction, and their whereabouts and condition are unknown.
Hizbullah is now attempting to topple Siniora’s democratically elected government. The terrorist organization is insisting the prime minister install a new administration with greater representation of pro-Syrian groups and hold early parliament elections.
“This is a coup d’etat… a revolt in all senses of the word,” declared Samir Geagea, a Christian leader interviewed on the Saudi-backed Lebanese television network, LBCI.
Youth and Sports Minister Ahmed Fatfat agreed. “The opposition is attempting a coup by force,” he said. “This is not a strike. This is military action, a true aggression and I’m afraid this could develop into clashes between citizens.”
The German Foreign Ministry issued a statement calling on the two sides to come to the negotiating table to discuss their differences without violence. “The current crisis in Lebanon can only be solved through inter-Lebanese dialogue with respect for the country’s democratic processes and institutions,” said the statement.
Germany also holds the rotating presidency of the European Union, which condemned the violence.
Pro-Hizbullah protestors have staged sit-ins in front of the prime minister’s office for two months. Soldiers have been patrolling Beirut for weeks in an effort to contain the growing demonstrations.
Despite the violence and the increasing influence of HIzbullah in the general population, however, Telecommunications Minister Marwan Hamadeh insisted that the Siniora government will remain in power. Hamadeh told al-Arabiya television news, “This will fail, as in the past, and the legitimate government of Lebanon will remain steadfast.”
Siniora and a team of government economists are due to attend an international donors’ conference in Paris on Thursday in an effort to obtain funding for the beleaguered country.
Hizbullah and Syrian-backed groups contend that funding in the form of grants and loans will weaken the economy and increase the national debt. The war devastated Lebanon’s fragile economy, prompting Siniora to appeal to the international community for financial aid to help repair the country’s infrastructure.
French President Jacques Chirac said the demonstrations could deter international donors’ inclination to provide funding to the Lebanese government.