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Calm returns to Lebanon after deadly protests

Beirut airport reopens, allowing Siniora to travel to Paris for Lebanon aid meeting

Calm returns to Lebanon after deadly protests

Calm returned to Lebanon as roads were cleared and Beirut airport reopened yesterday after the opposition called off a general strike that sparked deadly street fights ahead of a donor conference in Paris.
Traffic was fluid after tractors and garbage cleaners worked through the night to clear tyres, sand and rubble from streets blocked by the opposition in a show of force Tuesday aimed at ousting the Western-backed government.
Many shops also decided to reopen, although some businesses opted to wait until noon before raising their iron curtains to make sure the situation had returned to normal.
Tuesday's strike turned violent as opposition militants burned tires, blocked roads and fought street battles with pro-government supporters that left three people dead and 133 others wounded.
The violent protests paralyzed Lebanon for a day and added to concerns over the stability of a country still bearing the scars of the 1975-1990 civil war and last summer's massive Israeli war against the Shiite Muslim Hezbollah.
"The catastrophe has descended, and all have lost," said the liberal Al-Anwar daily, which said the opposition had gone too far in its action and the government could no longer ignore their demands.
Specter of past wars
"Lebanon contains discord ... and its past wars filled the streets," said the leftist As-Safir, which said the violence brought back the specter of the civil war battles between militias divided along confessional lines.
Lebanon Prime Minister Fuad Siniora took an early flight to Paris to attend today's aid conference for Lebanon which is still reeling from the economic impact of last summer's war and a public debt of US$41 billion.
Siniora traveled from Beirut international airport after it resumed normal activities after a near-total disruption by opposition militants who blocked access to the area by burning tires and dumping sand and rubble.
About 34 flights to and from Beirut airport, the country's only international airport, were canceled on Tuesday and about 400 passengers who had been stranded there for a day returned home.
Late Tuesday, the pro-Syrian opposition said it has "decided to suspend the strike which served as a warning to the illegitimate government." But it warned of "more effective" measures if the cabinet continued to reject their demands.
The anti-Syrian camp, meanwhile, held a meeting after which it warned of severe counter-protests if the opposition decided to resume its forced closure of the country.
Siniora himself warned that government forces will not accept attempts to disrupt public order and blamed Iran and Syria for the nationwide strike led by Hezbollah, which is backed by the two regional allies.
Outside interference
Lebanon has "been paying the price of imposed decisions coming from outside countries, like Iran and Syria," Siniora told Japan's Kyodo News.
His government and the parliament have effectively been paralyzed since six pro-Syrian ministers, including two from Hezbollah, quit the government in November.
Lebanese officials, including Siniora, said the street protests amounted to a coup bid and an attempt to return to Damascus's "tutelage" - the 29-year Syrian military domination of Lebanon that ended in 2005.
The opposition wants to replace Siniora's government, which took office after elections that followed the withdrawal of Syrian troops, with a national unity cabinet in which it has a veto say.
In Paris, more than 30 donor countries in addition to many international institutions are due to attend the aid conference expected to secure several billions of U.S. dollars in long-term financing for Lebanon's ailing economy.
Siniora has accused the opposition of "resorting to blackmail" to sabotage the conference "at a time we most need it and which will be a one-time chance for Lebanon."


Updated : 2021-10-20 12:06 GMT+08:00