Lebanon

Lebanon: Strike in Beirut, riots in streets

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Opposition parties and unions have called for a strike in Beirut to protest against low salaries and rising prices for basic goods. The strike started in the morning and there have been a number of incidents. The airport road is blocked, tires have been set on fire, while some have assaulted the headquarters of the majority al-Mustaqbal (the Future) party with machine gun fire and grenades. So far, reports suggest three people have been wounded while the government has deployed army units in some of Beirut's hot spots. 'Prices are too high, we cannot make it with these worthless salaries' said a demonstrator to 'Daily Lebanon', 'if a liter of milk for children cost 17,000 pounds (about EUR 7) a month ago, the price has literally doubled now'. Despite the fact that the strike had been widely anticipated - and confirmed even after the government's decision to increase minimum salaries by EUR 100 to prevent a total paralysis - many shops have opened for business as usual in Beirut and in some of the suburbs. A security official said that several explosions were heard along the Corniche road 'al Mazraa' even though there were no wounded. The riots are adding to an already tense political situation, the most tense since the end of the civil war (1990), marked by the stall between the majority and the opposition in electing a new president, an office that has remained vacant since last November. Members of both coalitions have called, fearing that the violence could erupt and lead to armed clashes between the government of Fouad Siniora and opposition activists such as Hezbollah. [AB]