Opposition and majority followers clash in Beirut streets

Other News Materials 5 April 2008 01:56 (UTC +04:00)

Shiite opposition followers and rival Sunnis who back the western-backed Lebanese government clashed late Friday on the streets of the capital, Lebanese police said. ( dpa )

Machinegun fire was heard across the areas of Ras al-Nabaa and Wataa al-Moustabeh but no further details were available, the police said.

Local media reported that followers of the Shiite Amal movement, who are loyal to the opposition headed by Hezbollah, clashed with the Sunni Future Current movement led by majority leader Saad Hariri.

Lebanese army immediately cordoned off the two areas and closed major streets inside.

Similar clashes have been taking place in some areas of Beirut for the past two months.

Lebanon's ongoing political crisis has left it without a president since last November 23 when the mandate of pro-Syrian president Emile Lahoud expired.

Lebanon's pro-government majority, backed by the West and most Arab states, agreed to elect Lebanese army commander Michel Suleiman's for president.

The opposition, backed by Syria and Iran, originally supported his candidacy but then refused to take part in the vote as they sought assurances about their representation in a new government line-up.

Arab League chief Amr Mussa has made several visits to Beirut in a bid to resolve the crisis, pushing an Arab League plan that calls for the immediate and unconditional election of the consensus candidate and then the formation of a new cabinet.

Lebanon's crisis mired last weekend's Arab summit in Damascus in controversy as a number of leaders including Saudi Arabia's king and the Egyptian president boycotted the gathering, blaming Syria for the deadlock.

Suleiman in remarks published Thursday said that he would bow out of the presidential race and leave his post by midsummer if the two sides continue wrangling and his election as compromise candidate is not secured by then.

The threat by General Suleiman to quit as army chief - at least three months before officially retiring - was viewed as an ultimatum to both the anti-Syrian parliament majority and the Syrian-backed opposition to break the political deadlock in the country.