Second day of unrest in Lebanon
Iran-backed Hizbullah tightened its grip on Beirut airport on Thursday, piling pressure on Lebanon's government on the second day of a protest campaign that has triggered gunbattles in the capital.
According to Reuters, followers of the Shiite movement and its allies blocked all roads leading to the airport and other main streets, paralysing much of the city.
Middle East Airlines, the national carrier, suspended all departures for 12 hours until midday (0900 GMT) to "await positive developments".
Sporadic gunbattles erupted between Hizbullah supporters and pro-government supporters on Wednesday. Scores of gunmen from both sides were seen in several areas.
"Beirut relives the chapters of sectarian and militia horror," the pro-government An-Nahar newspaper said on its front-page on Thursday. "Lebanon in the mouth of the dragon," said the pro-opposition al-Akhbar newspaper.
An opposition source said protests would go on until the government rescinded decisions affecting Hizbullah, including action against a telecommunications network operated by the group. Government sources ruled that out.
Wednesday's events quickly took on a sectarian tone with clashes in mixed Shi'ite and Sunni neighbourhoods. At least 10 people were hurt. Sunni Mufti Sheikh Mohammad Rachid Qabbani denounced the actions of "outlawed armed gangs" and appealed to Hizbullah to withdraw its gunmen from Beirut. "The Sunni Muslims in Lebanon are fed up," he said in a televised address to the Lebanese. Qabbani implicitly criticized Iran, saying "it is regrettable and sad that an Islamic state is funding such infringements that hurt the unity of Lebanese Muslims."
Political sources said army commander General Michel Suleiman had rejected a government idea to declare a state of emergency and impose a curfew. Siniora had told Future News television his cabinet was considering such a move.
The Lebanese army was deployed in Beirut but it refrained from using force to open roads and to stop the clashes. Hundreds of Hizbullah followers and their allies spent the night manning roadblocks of earth, concrete blocks and old cars. They kept up their campaign on Thursday, burning more tyres and building up their barricades. Most Beirut residents stayed indoors.
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