Army puts curfew on Beirut after clashes kill four


Jan 25, 2007

Lebanese soldiers fire in the air during clashes in Beirut Thursday

BEIRUT, Lebanon (Reuters) -- The Lebanese army declared a night curfew in Beirut on Thursday after clashes between pro- and anti-government activists left at least four people dead.

An army spokesman said the curfew would take effect at 8:30 p.m. and would last until dawn on Friday.

Two opposition students and two other people were shot dead and 35 were injured, many by gunfire, at Beirut's Arab University, security sources said.

Fighting started between students with sticks and stones on the university campus then spilled into nearby streets. It developed into exchanges of gunfire from assault rifles and pistols involving students and residents from both sides.

An opposition campaign against the government, which is struggling to recover from last year's war with Israel, has raised tensions between Sunnis and Shiites in Lebanon, still recovering from a 1975-90 civil war.

It was not immediately clear who started the gunfire, but NBN and Al-Manar television, run by the opposition's Shiite Muslim Hezbollah movement, blamed the shootings on pro-government gunmen loyal to Sunni leader Saad al-Hariri.

Soldiers fired into the air to try to disperse the crowds and were later deployed in large numbers in an effort to control the clashes. Thick smoke rose from the area, where rioters had set cars and tires ablaze.

Soldiers used military trucks to evacuate scores of civilians trapped on the streets by the violence.

Rival television stations blamed each other's camps for the fighting. Witnesses reported shots fired at students from rooftops in the mainly Sunni areas and attacks by a Shiite mob on a Sunni-run school in another area of the capital.

Hezbollah issued a statement urging its supporters to pull out of the streets around the university, while Hariri urged supporters to show self-restraint and calm.

"What everyone should do now is halt the strife ... We must all be united or we have to look for our country in the graveyard of history," Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, a Shiite opposition leader, told local television stations by telephone.

Prime Minister Fouad Siniora said from Paris where he was at an aid conference: "I call on everyone to return to the voice of reason."

The clashes died down after the appeals, but tension in several Beirut neighborhoods was high after darkness.

"It's a powder keg," analyst Oussama Safa told Reuters. "It doesn't seem to be a political decision to let it go there. It's spontaneous street violence."

The opposition launched nationwide protests on Tuesday which shut down much of Lebanon and sparked violence in which three people were killed and 176 wounded.

The opposition wants veto power in government and early parliamentary elections to topple Siniora's Cabinet. The prime minister and his main backer, parliamentary majority leader Hariri, have refused to give in to the demands.

Lebanon won more than $7.6 billion in grants and soft loans at a Paris conference on Thursday to help it cope with a debt mountain and recover from war. (Full story (

War between Israel and Shi'ite Hezbollah guerrillas last year left much of the country's infrastructure bombed and many Shiite villages and districts wrecked.