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Opposition Enforces Strike with Burning Tires

Retrieved from Naharnet on January 23, 2007


Retrieved from Annaharonline on January 24, 2007

Picture taken by Mahmoud Tawil

 Lebanon woke up Tuesday to spiraling riots by the Hizbullah-led opposition in an effort to enforce

 a general strike aimed at toppling Prime Minister Fouad Saniora's majority government.

 Thick black smoke billowed from blazing rubber tires in Beirut, east and south Lebanon as members

 of the opposition tried to block traffic at key road intersections.

 Despite that, children penetrated the smoke screens covering their faces with masks and heading

 to schools in Beirut as well as cities and towns of east and south Lebanon.

 Thousands of motorists waited in cars in determination to make it to work as army troops reopened

 the main road linking the eastern Jizzine district with the provincial capital of Sidon.

 A bunch of youngsters wearing black headbands ran away as the troops picked the blazing tires off

 the road. Motorists blew horns in jubilation and kids were seen clapping and chanting as their bus

 headed to school.

 At least three people were injured in the northern town of Byblos (Jbeil) when they tried to stop

 members of the opposition Free Patriotic Movement from blocking the road by setting up fire to rubber


 On the coastal highway north of Beirut at the Christian town of Jal el-Dib, opposition activists mobbed

 a fire engine and forced it to retreat. On the mountain road at Antelias, the very few motorists

 maneuvered their way around burning tires to pass through. One got out of his car and kicked away

 a burning tire to clear a path.

 In the Beirut commercial district of Mar Elias, opposition activists used burning tires to block a column

 of army armored personnel carriers from deploying in the area.

 The strike was called by Hizbullah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah and other opposition leaders.

 But Saniora and his pro-government supporters urged all Lebanese to ignore the call.

 The turnout Tuesday has become a test of strength between the government and Hizbullah-led

 opposition. Although both leaders sought to avoid violence, tension in the streets between their

 supporters was already high even before dawn.

 The strike, which was backed by Lebanon's labor union, has deepened divisions among Lebanese.

 But banking associations and business leaders have urged employees to report to work.

 The planned strike came two days before the opening in Paris Thursday of an international donors'

 conference for Lebanon.

 The opposition has also said the grants and loans -- which local analysts set at around $5 billion -- would

 only increase the national debt and further weaken the economy. The summer war between Hizbullah

 and Israel deepened Lebanon's economic woes.(Naharnet-AP)



One day was more than enough

Opposition calls off strike but warns of 'far worse' to come if government refuses to give in

By Rym Ghazal

Daily Star staff

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

 BEIRUT: The Hizbullah-led opposition's general strike against the government on Tuesday led

 to a nationwide protest that paralyzed the country and left its capital engulfed in barricades of blazing

 tires and bloodied by clashes that left at least three dead and over 130 wounded.

 Late Tuesday, the opposition announced that it would lift its strike. Prior to the announcement, however,

 the man whom the crippling protest was aimed at unseating - Prime Minister Fouad Siniora - issued

 a brief, firm address to the nation in which he stood his ground and announced he would remain

 in office, even as the country appeared to be drawing to the verge of another civil war.

 "We are at a dangerous crossroads: Either we are heading to a civil war, or heading to dialogue," Siniora

 said in a televised address from inside the Grand Serail, where he has been residing since the beginning

 on December 1 of a sit-in in the heart of the capital aimed at deposing his government.

 The peaceful anti-government campaign had been escalating slowly over the past two months, until

 on Tuesday it suddenly surged and turned violent.

 As The Daily Star went to press, unverified reports had emerged that at least seven had perished

 in street clashes.

 "We will stand together against intimidation. We will stand together against strife," Siniora said, calling

 on the opposition to "get off the streets" and return to dialogue.

 Fear gripped the country as residents of the capital watched columns of smoke rising in all directions,

 fed by the blazing tires, cars and garbage that opposition protesters used to block all main routes

 into Beirut.

 It was the second time in less than six months that Lebanon was besieged, with its highways, main

 roads, ports and airport completely blocked off - the predicament reminiscent of the summer 2006 war

 with Israel.

 Siniora was forced to cancel a flight to Paris, where he was to join the Paris III international donor

 conference for Lebanon on Thursday.

 The premier called for an immediate extraordinary session of Parliament to defuse the crisis, pleading

 for "our brothers in the opposition" to join in.

 In its announcement that the strike would end, the opposition said that the day's chaos had been

 a "warning."

 "This was a warning to the government," said Hizbullah MP Amin Cherri, reading a joint opposition


 "The government has to respond to our demands, and if it doesn't, then it should expect even greater

 escalation, far worse than today's," Cherri told The Daily Star.

 Lebanese troops and police remained on high alert throughout the day, working to keep rival groups


 Security forces made sporadic efforts to open roads but made little headway because of the crowds

 of protesters.

 Violent clashes erupted across the country, with two areas witnessing the return of old "fault lines" from

 the 1975-1990 Lebanese Civil War.

 The Shiite supporters of Hizbullah and Amal clashed with the Future Movement's Sunni supporters in the

 predominantly Sunni area of Corniche al-Mazraa. Stone-throwing and fistfights injured dozens of people

 and wreaked damage on cars and private property.

 At the same time, supporters of Christian opposition leader Michel Aoun clashed with followers

 of Lebanese Forces chief Samir Geagea in several predominantly Christian areas, in fights recalling

 the leaders' bitter rivalry in the late 1980s.

 Lebanese officials were quoted as warning that the Aoun-Geagea struggle may turn into "a war

 of elimination."

 Many shops, schools and businesses were closed in Beirut, either because of business owners supporting

 the strike, or because employees could not get to work past fiery barricades.

 Many commuters were stranded, and an eerie silence hung heavily over most of the capital's commercial


 "What is happening is a revolution and a coup d'etat," Geagea told local media.

 "This is direct terrorism to paralyze the country," he said, going on to criticize the national security

 apparatus for failing to "guarantee safe and open passage for the Lebanese."

 After Defense Minister Elias Murr instructed the army to "avoid use of force," the troops remained

 on alert, with shots fired in the air and tear gas released whenever riots erupted.

 "Our campaign will escalate day by day," former Minister Suleiman Franjieh, an opposition leader, told Al

 -Manar television earlier on Tuesday. "As long as they won't listen to us, we will not let them rest."

 Some residents caught in the middle of the clashes between the two opposed Christian parties called

 on their religious leader, Maronite Patriarch Nasrallah Butros Sfeir, for help and for an end to clashes

 before the situation deteriorated into a violent intra-Christian war.

 Sfeir met Tuesday with the US ambassador to Lebanon, Jeffrey Feltman, but no statement was made

 to the media following the meeting.

 The US State Department released a statement blaming the opposition for the violence and saying it was

 "deeply concerned" about Lebanese factions "allied with Syria" that "are trying to use violence, threats

 and intimidation to impose their political will on Lebanon."

 "Especially given the dangers of sectarian clashes, the United States calls on all parties to use peaceful

 and constitutional means to debate the political issues before them, and to exercise restraint," said

 the statement.

 Germany, which holds the rotating EU presidency, also called on both sides in Lebanon to halt violence

 that has killed three people and left scores of others injured, saying Tuesday that the only way to resolve

 the ongoing dispute there was through dialogue.

 The German government said the European Union continues to strive for a peaceful future in Lebanon

 and that it would underline the point during Thursday's donor conference in Paris. - With agencies


Lebanon's future is more important than its politicians' pride

Thursday, January 25, 2007 (Retrieved from Daily Star newspaper)


 Lebanon's people have been shown a preview of one possible future for their country, and experience

 tells them to fear it. Lebanon's political leaders have seen the same thing and might be expected to share

 the trepidation, if only the spectacle had not been their production from start to finish. The opposition

 had vowed that Tuesday's general strike would be "peaceful," and the government had pledged to honor

 their right to demonstrate, but solemn promises and pure intentions mean nothing when angry crowds

 meet in the street. Anyone who needs more evidence of this unfortunate but unmistakable reality

 is in a dangerous state of denial.

 Much has been made of the fact that both the government and the opposition have uttered such

 maximalist boasts that neither can now compromise without appearing to have lost "face." The real

 problem is that neither side seems to understand that the stakes are incalculably greater than those

 associated with the pride of a particular party or sect. This is why they continue to practice "politics

 as usual" in the dysfunctional and self-destructive sense that the term has come to represent in Lebanon.

 The immediate aftermath of Tuesday's national horror show has produced the usual blame game, itself

 a tiresome and inflammatory product of the gossip contest that passes as political discourse in Lebanon.

 The refusal to engage in factual debate has become so consistent, though, that intelligent people

 are entitled to wonder whether the entire country is being dragged through a long and hazardous

 gauntlet by a few individuals who either have very little of value to say or are too ashamed to say

 it publicly.

 The government and its supporters are certainly guilty of this befuddling reluctance to engage intelligibly

 with their rivals, but at least their case is understandable: As the defenders of a largely indefensible

 status quo, it is only natural that they would prefer not to define that which they mean to preserve,

 relying instead on emotional appeals to buzzwords like "democracy" and "sovereignty."

 The empty speechifying of the opposition and its supporters is more difficult to comprehend. They say

 they are determined to establish a new order in Lebanese political life and insist that it will be more

 equitable than that which prevails today. That is a perfectly viable notion. They steadfastly refuse

 to explain in detail, however, what their vision involves - meaning that outwardly, their entire political

 program consists essentially of beseeching the electorate to "trust us."

 Those who demand change are frequently justified in doing so, especially in a backward country like

 Lebanon. But being right is not enough: For one's policy proposals to legitimately triumph in a pluralistic

 society, the merits of those proposals must be freely and openly discussed - and that cannot happen

 unless considerable detail is released for debate. Anything short of this is a recipe for inchoate arguments

 of the sort that lead to senseless brawls (or worse) among men (and boys) too caught up in the tribal

 loyalties of the day to even guess at the substance - let alone the consequences - of that for which they

 spill the blood of their neighbors.