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Friday, October 06, 2006

Five wounded in south Beirut riot

Police clashed with rioters who burned tires, threw stones and fired guns in protest against attempts to demolish illegal housing in Lebanon's capital on Friday.

Police said at least five people suffered gunshot wounds, but it was not immediately clear whether they were wounded by fire from the rioters or police officers.

The rioters blocked one of the two main roads leading to Beirut's airport where it passes through the city's southern suburbs. The main highway to the airport remained open, however.

Police said that when their officers arrived to enforce a government order to remove illegal shacks in the southern districts, local residents hurled stones at them and blocked the streets with burning tires and trash cans.

Armed men in the crowd opened fire on the police, prompting them to return fire, a police spokesman said, speaking on customary condition of anonymity.

The five gunshot casualties were civilians, the spokesman said, adding that the rioters damaged three police vehicles.

The city's southern districts are a stronghold of Hizbullah.

Friday's riot comes at a time of political tension in Lebanon, with Hizbullah and its allies calling for a national unity government. The Western-backed Prime Minister Fuad Saniora and his political allies oppose such a move.

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