Tense calm in Beirut after general strike suspended
by Youssef Hourany
The final death tally from yesterday’s clashes is still unknown. Prime minister arrives in Paris for donors’ conference. Clashes between Christians are worrisome, provoke rebuke by Patriarch Sfeir.

Beirut (AsiaNews) – A tense calm prevails in Beirut today after the opposition decided to call off its general strike, inviting all its supporters to leave the streets. But in addition to bringing normal life to a standstill in many of Lebanon’s regions, yesterday’s protests cost the lives of five people and injured more than 150.

The strike, which was launched on the eve of the Paris donors’ conference, prevented Prime Minister Fuad Siniora from leaving. Only today was he able to fly to the French capital.

“Today's general strike turned into actions and harassment that overstepped all limits and rekindled memories of times of strife, war and [Syrian] hegemony,” Siniora said. “This has nothing to do with the rules and values of democracy, with the right of peaceful expression”.

For his part Hezbollah lawmaker Housein el Hage Hassan told AsiaNews that the current political crisis must be ended, warning against a new wave of fratricidal violence.

However, he did stress that pressures against the government will continue and rejected any talk about reopening the road that leads to Beirut International Airport.

He also raised the possibility, provided by in the constitution, that the Lebanese president may sign a decree dissolving the government.

The Shia lawmaker said that the alliance with Christian leader Michel Aoun was permanent and lasting, and harshly criticized Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea, accusing him of not sparing the blood of Christians in the north.

El-Hage Hassan finally expressed concerns that decisions taken at the Paris conference might manipulate the Palestinian problem by linking it to Lebanon’s huge foreign debt which now stands at more than US$ 40 billion mark.

“What is happening is the furthest thing from democratic means," Christian leader Samir Geagea said. “This is a coup d'État. This is a revolt in all sense of the word,” he added.

Telecommunications Minister Marwan Hamade agreed that calling yesterday’s actions a “coup against the government”.

Particularly worrisome are bloody clashes between Christians in northern Lebanon. Maronite Patriarch, Card Nasrallah Sfeir, expressed his sorrow at hearing the news coming from that part of the country, where the violence lashed at helpless people. He warned leaders of the opposing factions to make an effort to “spare people suffering and blood”.