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Hezbollah Fighters Take Over West Beirut, 13 Dead


Lebanon's ruling coalition says that Hezbollah's takeover of western Beirut amounts to a "bloody coup" against national unity and the democratic system.

The pro-Western March 14th Coalition issued a statement late Friday condemning Hezbollah's violence against Lebanon's people and media. At least 15 people have been killed and more than 20 wounded since Wednesday, in fighting between Hezbollah's Shi'ite Muslim fighters and militias loyal to Lebanon's U.S.-backed government.

In Washington, U.S. State Department spokesman Scott McCormack promised that the U.S. will continue to support Lebanon's government. He condemned the violence and blamed Iran and Syria for their support of Hezbollah.

By late Friday, reports from Beirut said the fighting had eased, and the Lebanese army was moving into neighborhoods previously controlled by Hezbollah.

A statement by the Hezbollah-allied Christian leader Michel Aoun said Hezbollah's actions had helped to restore Lebanon's political equilibrium. Aoun told reporters in Beirut that the situation will de-escalate soon, and suggested that Hezbollah will also end its long-standing occupation of Beirut's downtown.

There was no confirmation from Hezbollah's leadership, which has refused to negotiate with the government.

The White House says it will continue to work through diplomatic channels to end the violence in Beirut. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice spoke Friday by telephone with Lebanon's Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, as well as with the United Nations Secretary General and the foreign ministers of France and Saudi Arabia.

Mr. Bush will discuss the crisis with Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Siniora during talks in Egypt next week.

Saudi Arabia, which backs the Lebanese government, is calling for an emergency meeting of Arab foreign ministers, which could take place as soon as Sunday. However, Hezbollah's supporters in Damascus and Tehran say the upheaval in Beirut is something the Lebanese should settle on their own.

Travel through much of Beirut is impossible, and the violence has forced the closure of the city's port.

Hezbollah also shut down television station "Future Movement" owned by Saad al-Hariri, a leader of Lebanon's governing coalition, and burned the offices of an affiliated newspaper.

With Lebanon's pro-Syrian opposition groups saying the new roadblocks will remain in place, France and Italy are preparing evacuation plans for their nationals in Beirut. Britain has advised its citizens to avoid all travel to Lebanon.

Lebanon has been in a political stalemate since last year, with the ruling coalition and the opposition unable to pick a new head of state and form a unity government.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP, AP and Reuters.

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