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Hezbollah-Led Opposition Protesters Block Roads in Lebanon's Capital


Lebanon's main pro-Hezbollah labor union has called a general strike for today against the country's embattled pro-Western government, but Lebanese Army troops have blocked main roads, keeping demonstrators away from government buildings and the strike appears to be fizzling out, as Edward Yeranian reports from Beirut.

Striking protesters set fire to tires along the road to Beirut Airport, blocking traffic, and keeping flights grounded. Private jets used by Lebanon's top leaders were also evacuated to airports outside the country.

Supporters of the pro-Syrian Hezbollah and members of a pro-government militia loyal to parliament majority leader Sa'ad Hariri also clashed along a major Beirut thoroughfare, trading gunfire, before being separated by Lebanese Army troops.

The leader of Lebanon's striking General Labor Confederation said that he was calling off a scheduled demonstration, claiming that it was "impossible to move around due to army roadblocks."

Beirut's An Nahar newspaper's website also says that army troops have arrested several snipers belonging to the Amal movement, which is allied to Hezbollah.

Army tanks and fire engines were stationed in front of Lebanon's Central Bank, where protesters had expected to congregate, but the street appeared empty.

Paul Salem, Director of the Carnegie Center for Peace in the Middle East, thinks that today's general strike was something of a "tempest in a teapot," and that the major players in Lebanon's political arena were trying to prevent things from getting out of hand:

"In general, the country is kind of in a situation of truce and that the main players are abiding by some basic rules of the game, that include not to escalate in a major way, but the rules of the game also include low level contestation and complaining and demonstrating here and there. In other words, it allows a measure of trouble and a measure of tension, but there's also, so far, there's been agreement that it won't be taken beyond a certain level," said Salem.

Salem added that the main "regional players," Saudi Arabia and Iran also appear to be eager not to let Lebanon's ongoing conflict degenerate into an all-out war between Shi'ite and Sunni muslims.

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