Lebanon opposition halts strike

FroM: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/6292945.stm

Jan 24, 2007

There are fears that the crisis could spill over into sectarian violence

Lebanese opposition sources say they have called off the anti-government strike which brought much of the country to a standstill on Tuesday.

Three people died and 100 were injured as protesters, who blocked many roads, clashed with government supporters.

A senior opposition member says the road blocks will be removed, but warned if the government did not respond to its demands the protests would resume.

The Hezbollah-led opposition wants a role in government and fresh elections.

The protesters see the government as being too close to the West, and accuse it of bankrupting Lebanon.

The opposition is demanding a big enough share in government to give them veto power over any decisions they do not like - a step the Western-backed government has not been willing to take.

Prime Minister Fouad Siniora said he would stand firm against what he called "intimidation".

Government offices in Beirut have been besieged by opposition supporters since they began a sit-in in December.

Old wounds

Christian leader Samir Geagea told al-Jazeera television: "What is happening is the furthest thing from democratic means. This is direct terrorism to paralyse the country."

The BBC's Jim Muir in Beirut says that even with this indication that this protest has ended - which has not yet been officially announced - it is clear that the story is not yet over.

Opposition sources say the day of disruption was a warning to the government and there will be yet harsher action to follow if the message does not get through.

Government officials however insist they have made no concessions to persuade the opposition to back down.

Assuming the barriers do come down, this will be a relief to the many people who have found themselves unable to go to work as businesses were closed, roads blocked with burning tyres and flights cancelled, our correspondent says.

The clashes re-opened many old wounds from the civil war in the 1970s and 80s, our correspondent adds, and raised fears that sectarian civil strife could be re-kindled if the crisis goes on.