Lebanese government declares day of mourning following Beirut’s deadly armed clashes that killed six people amid one of the world’s worst economic crises of the past 150 years.
Schools, banks and government offices across Lebanon have shut down after hours of gun battles between heavily armed militias killed six people and terrorised Beirut residents.
The government called for a day of mourning on Friday following the armed clashes, in which gunmen used automatic weapons and rocket-propelled grenades on the streets of the capital, echoing the nation’s darkest era of the 1975-90 civil war.
The gun battles raised the spectre of a return to sectarian violence in a country already struggling through one of the world’s worst economic crises of the past 150 years.
Residents in the Tayouneh area of Beirut where most of the fighting played out, swept glass from the streets in front of shops and apartment buildings.
Soldiers guarded the entrance to the battered neighbourhood, and barbed wire was erected at street entrances. Many cars were damaged.
Hezbollah and Amal were holding funerals for their dead later on Friday.
Bloody clashes over port blast
Tensions over the port blast have contributed to Lebanon’s many troubles, including a currency collapse, hyperinflation, soaring poverty and an energy crisis leading to extended electricity blackouts.
The violence broke out on Thursday at a protest organised by the two main Shiite parties - Hezbollah and the Amal Movement - calling for the removal of the lead judge investigating last year’s massive explosion at Beirut port.
Many of the protesters had been armed. It was not clear who fired the first shot, but the confrontation quickly devolved into heavy exchanges of gunfire along a former civil war frontline separating predominantly Muslim and Christian areas of Beirut.
Gunfire echoed for hours, and ambulances rushed to pick up casualties. Snipers shot from buildings. Bullets penetrated apartment windows in the area. Schools were evacuated and residents hid in shelters.
The two Shia groups said their protesters came under fire from snipers deployed over rooftops, accusing the Christian right-wing Lebanese Forces militia of starting the shooting. Among the dead - all Shia - were two Hezbollah fighters.