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Tuesday, January 23, 2007


Beirut, 23 Jan. (AKI) - A person was killed and another four were injured in a gunbattle in northern Lebanon on Tuesday as a general strike called by Hezbollah and other opposition parties paralyzed the country. Security sources cited by Reuters said members of the pro-government Future movement and the Syrian Social Nationalist Party (SSNP) exchanged fire in the village of Halba during the nationwide protest by the opposition to topple Prime Minister Fouad Siniora.

In a separate shooting incidents five members of the Free Patriotic Movement - led by the Maronite Christian Michel Aoun, a former military commander and prominent opposition leader - were injured, reports said.

Protestors burned tyres and garbage as they set up barricades blocking many streets in the capital Beirut and blocking access to some of the country's main roads.

Lebanese regular army soldiers moved into Beirut's Christian neighbourhood of Jounieh in an apparent attempt to block a showdown between fighters belonging to Aoun's movement and those loyal to Samir Geagea, a Christian leader who supports the government.

Hezbollah chief Sheik Hassan Nasrallah and other opposition leaders called the strike, which was backed by labour unions while Siniora and his supporters urged citizens to ignore the call, a move endorsed by banking associations and business leaders.

Many workers appeared to have stayed at home on Tuesday, either in support of the strike or in fear of violence.

The director general of Civil Aviation, Hamdi Shawq, told Al-Arabiya that the airport was working, but passengers were having difficulty getting to and from it.

The strike came two days before Siniora and his economic team seek financial aid for Lebanon at an international donors' conference in Paris.

Anti-government protestors have staged largely peaceful sit-ins in front of Siniora's Beirut office since December 1. The protest action began in the wake of the resignation from the cabinet of six ministers, including all of Hezbollah's representatives in the government.
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