Lebanon: Beirut paralysed by general strike


On January 22, the Lebanese parliamentary opposition, led by the Shiite-based Hezbollah movement, organised a general strike to demand the resignation of the US-backed government of PM Fuad Siniora.

Associated Press reported on January 23 that the previous day opposition supporters blocked roads with burning tyres, "paralysing Beirut and areas across Lebanon".

AP added that "many businesses closed as workers stayed home, either in support of the strike or because of blocked roads. Some schools closed because of the unrest; others opened and quickly sent pupils home."

Tony Younes, who was blocking a road in northern Beirut with other followers of Michel Aoun, Hezbollah's top Christian ally, told AP: "We've been protesting peacefully for 52 days and our calls went unanswered ... Today, we escalated. Tomorrow we will escalate more. And we will continue until the fall of the government."

BBC World News reported that "protesters see the government as being too close to the West, and accuse it of bankrupting Lebanon.

"In a televised speech, Prime Minister Fouad Siniora said he would stand firm against 'intimidation' and 'strife'...

"There was little sign of a concerted move by the security forces to clear the barricades as the government had said they would, leading to allegations that the army and police were collaborating with the opposition ...

"Many people joined the strike in the mainly Shia south and east of the country. In the north, among the Christians and Muslims, there are both supporters and opponents of the government, so tension has been particularly high, our correspondent says."

AP reported that following violent clashes between supporters and opponents of the government in which three protesters were killed, "In the evening, the opposition announced it would call off the roadblocks and the nationwide general strike that sparked the unrest, saying it had delivered a warning to the government. But it threatened more protests ...

"Gunmen from neighboring districts in the northern city of Tripoli — one largely Sunni Muslim, the other largely Alawites, a Shiite Muslim offshoot — fought each other, causing two of the fatalities ...

"In the Christian Batroun region, government supporters and opponents fired on each other, killing a pro-Siniora protester. Across the country, 44 people sustained gunshot wounds and about 80 others were injured in fistfights or stone-throwing attacks."

Since late August, the Hezbollah-led opposition, which holds 44% of the seats in the country's 128-member parliament, has been demanding that its representation in Siniora's 24-cabinet be increased from six to at least 10 members.

Over the weekend of November 11-12, the two Hezbollah cabinet ministers, the three ministers of its Shiite ally Amal and the sole FPM minister resigned in protest at refusal of the Siniora governing bloc of pro-Western Christian and Sunni parties to add at least four members of Aoun's Christian-based secular nationalist Free Patriotic Movement (FPM). The FPM and two smaller Christian allied groups hold 21 seats in the parliament.

Since the 1.5 million-strong December 1 protest rally in Beirut against Siniora, the opposition bloc has demanded the immediate resignation of his government and the calling of new parliamentary elections.