In response to calls for a country-wide strike in protest of new economic proposals by the Lebanese government of Prime Minister Fuad Siniora, tens of thousands of National Opposition and pro-government supporters flooded the streets of cities and regions across Lebanon. By the afternoon, a thick cloud of black smoke from burning tires hung over Beirut. Although the uniformed members of Hizbu'llah, the powerful Shi'i political and paramilitary movement that is one of the 3 large political organizations that make up the Opposition (along with the Shi'i AMAL movement and the Maronite Christian Free Patriotic Movement of Michel Aoun) were reportedly well disciplined, Opposition and pro-government protestors engaged in clashes both inside and outside of Beirut. When the smoke cleared today, at least 3 people had been killed.
Perhaps the most disturbing scene was the refusal or inability of the Lebanese military to control both sides of today's protests. National Opposition and pro-government supporters exchanged volleys of rocks and even bullets and physical confrontations pitting Shi'i against Sunni Muslims, Maronites against Maronites, Muslims against Christians, and Christians against secular pro-Syrian socialists. Beirut's airport, which was supposedly guarded by the Lebanese military, was in fact safeguarded by armed Hizbu'llah patrols.
"This has been transformed into a coup d'etat. It is a revolt in every sense of the word," said Maronite warlord Geagea, who until 2005 had been serving jail time for ordering the assassination of Lebanese prime minister Rashid Karami and the bombings of Maronite churches aligned with his rivals, including the former general Aoun [AOUN, left and GEAGEA, right].
To read press coverage on today's protests across Lebanon, see:
Before Tuesday's protests, Hizbu'llah Secretary General Shaykh Sayyid Hassan Nasrallah accused the government and its allies of inflaming sectarian tensions, particularly the Sunni Muslim supporters of Hariri's Future Movement, which reportedly is backed financially by the Salafi-dominated Kingdom of Saudi Arabia: ""Some of the governing team strive day and night to push matters towards a civil war in Lebanon. Some of them work and dream ... that there will be a Sunni-Shi`ite sedition in Lebanon...We will not go to a civil war."