Three dead in Lebanon clashes

The opposition ends a general strike which erupted into violence.

    Siniora says no further "breach of public order" will be tolerated [Reuters]

    Opposition message

    Rula Amin, Al Jazeera's correspondent in Beirut, said the opposition's decision to end the strike did not necessarily mean that future action could be ruled out.

    She said: "The opposition is sending out a very strong message that government should understand [the opposition's view].

    "If things are not resolved they can expect more protests and more of an escalation."

    Amin said the Lebanese army's failure to control the protests undermined the power of the government.

    "The fact that [the] army could not or would not intervene sent a strong message to the government that it cannot rely on the army to stop any unrest in the future.

    In a televised address Siniora said the government would not tolerate any further breaches of public order, but in a move aimed at defusing the situation, offered discussions with Hezbollah and its Shia and Christian allies who see the administration as illegitimate.

    Protesters trying to topple the cabinet, which they say is illegitimate after six ministers resigned in November, blocked roads with blazing tyres on Tuesday, sparking clashes with government loyalists in which three people were killed and more than 110 people hurt, government and opposition sources said.

    Siniora said: "We will stay together against intimidation. We will stand together against strife.

    "Today's general strike turned into actions and harassment that overstepped all limits and rekindled memories of times of strife, war and hegemony."

    Hinting at stronger measures he said: "The duty of the army and security forces does not allow any flexibility or compromise regarding the public interest, order and civic peace."

    For their part the opposition vowed the unrest would continue.

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    Naim Kassem, Hezbollah's deputy leader, told Al Jazeera: "We will do our utmost to maintain control of ourselves and our supporters but I share with you the concern about the other side, which has no such controls."

    "Our campaign will escalate day by day," Suleiman Franjieh, an opposition Christian leader, told al-Manar television. "As long as they won't listen to us, we will not let them rest."

    The western-backed government, with support among Sunni and Christian parties, maintains it is legitimate and has said it would welcome back the ministers who resigned.

    However, attempts at mediation between the two sides have failed since Hezbollah and its allies began protests in central Beirut on December 1.

    Carrot and stick

    Mike Hanna, Al Jazeera's correspondent in Beirut, described Siniora's speech as a mixture of carrot and stick.

    The stick was the threat of force to end the protests while the carrot was a lessening of the rhetoric that has been coming from the government recently, urging people to leave the streets and let the politicians resolve the crisis.

    There are widespread fears
    the violence could escalate [AFP]

    With both sides still firmly entrenched in their positions after nearly two months of civil unrest there are now fears the situation could escalate into widespread violence.

    However Hanna said there are alternatives to increased violence and that having demonstrated the ability to express public discontent on the streets the opposition may see promise in Siniora's offer of dialogue.

    Ousama Safa of the Lebanese Centre for Policy Studies told Al Jazeera that the opposition could have used up an important option by calling the general strike.

    Safa said the government will be hoping the opposition has backed itself into a corner and, with the only remaining option to topple it seeming to be mass violence and civil strife, will change tactic and begin dialogue.

    Christian death

    Lebanese troops tried to keep rival groups apart on Tuesday, but police said a member of the Christian pro-government Lebanese Forces party,  was shot dead in the town of Batroun, north of Beirut.

    Black clouds billowed over parts of Beirut as opposition supporters set up burning roadblocks on main routes and at entrances to the capital, as well as in other major cities to enforce the strike.

    Commuters were stranded and business came to a halt in many districts of the capital.

    "This has been transformed into a coup d'etat. It is a revolt in every sense of the word"

    Samir Geagea, Christian Lebanese Forces leader

    The army, which has been guarding government offices in central Beirut since the opposition began protesting there has few extra troops to deploy. It is already stretched after moving thousands of men to south Lebanon and the Syrian border following Hezbollah's war with Israel last year.

    One Christian leader said Tuesday's protests were tantamount to a coup attempt.
    Samir Geagea, head of the Christian Lebanese Forces and an opponent of the strike, said the protests had nothing to do with democracy or freedom.
    He said: "This has been transformed into a coup d'etat. It is a revolt in every sense of the word."

    Ahmad Fatfat, the Lebanese minister of youth and sports, told Al Jazeera that the strike was an "aggression against the Lebanese people".

    Siniora has announced an economic reform plan to be presented on Thursday to the Paris conference, where foreign donors are expected to pledge money to help Lebanon's debt-laden economy.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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