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Man Killed in Beirut Clash as Opposition Protests Continue


The political crisis in Lebanon has turned deadly for the first time since open-ended anti-government protests began Friday. A man has been killed in a clash between opposition and government supporters in Beirut. VOA's Challiss McDonough reports from Beirut

The tension that has been building for weeks broke out into violence in the Beirut neighborhood of Qasqas on Sunday, when a group of Shi'ite Hezbollah supporters passed through a staunchly pro-government Sunni neighborhood. The clash started with rock-throwing, and then gunfire erupted. At least one Shi'ite man was killed, with several other people injured.

In another neighborhood, a separate clash ended with at a building set on fire.

Meanwhile, the protesters remain camped outside the office of Prime Minister Fuad Siniora, demanding his resignation. Mr. Siniora again vowed to remain in office. Visiting Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa flew to Beirut for talks with leaders of both sides, trying to mediate an end to the crisis. He said the Arab world cannot afford to stand by and watch Lebanon destabilize.

"We hope that it won't escalate," said Amr Moussa. "Our job is to work with all the parties on the basis of retrieving the national unity in Lebanon. And we believe that only when these are in the same boat, and we in the Arab world are so concerned about Lebanon, we are ready to help maintain a peaceful national unity."

Some residents of Beirut say they are simply fed up with the dueling protests and political tension. Travel agent Alex Safavian and a group of friends were out on the streets promoting a DJ dance party they are organizing for next Saturday, and he said he wanted to give people a place to escape from it all for a while.

"Especially now that the situation is really annoying," said Alex Safavian. "You can hear now..."

He is interrupted by a convoy of cars speeding by, horns blaring, with people leaning out of the windows and waving flags. This group is pro-government, but many others have raced through the neighborhood waving Hezbollah banners and those from other opposition groups.

"We're trying to do this event to keep people who do not wish to be part of the politics, and the parties they have, the both sides, with this event," he said. "It's a cultural event. Life goes on. We want to live without all this mess and that's it."

Many Beirutis feel the tension is increasing the longer the opposition protests go on. Frustration is building on both sides, and Safavian says he is worried about more violence.

"You can feel that, you can feel that.," noted Alex Safavian. "On Friday, it was different. On Saturday, it was different. The mood is getting really kind of a festival, you know? But unfortunately it might turn, small street fights. Because you have people who were raised, who grew up with this attitude, you know, that I have to fight with my hands instead of to use my brain to solve a solution. So this might happen."

Safavian says there are plenty of people in Beirut who are sick of politics and just want to get back to life as usual. He hopes his three-DJ party will let them forget about the things that divide them, at least for a few hours.

"Exactly," he said. "Music is, I think it's a language that united everybody. We are a crew of Christians and Muslims, and those things don't have a place in our concept."

Partying and politics are both proud Beirut traditions. With more than enough politics to go around at the moment, Safavian is confident that plenty of people will be willing to fork over the $20 cover charge for a few hours of Electro-beat-driven escapism.