Saturday, 10 May 2008

Beirut—Saturday 10 May

Red dots show the clashes across Lebanon 7-10 May 2008. Click for details. (note: the map colour codes areas where one sect is the majority).

Updated 00:09 Sunday 11 May

We crossed from east Beirut through to Hamra tonight. Army in control over all major road junctions. We were challenged once, but where left to pass as soon as they heard our Beiruti accents.


There are reports that this phase of crisis could be drawing to a close. The government said that they left to the army the question of whether to close Hizbollah's communication system and withdraw its security officer from the airport.

The army then announced that they would not move on Hizbollah.


The SSNP are reported to be firing rockets or mortars into Future Current areas in Tripoli.


Large crowds (the biggest so far) of Future Current supporters have gutted and set fire to the offices of the SSNP in Tripoli.

Jumblat' supporters have kidnapped 3 members of Hizbollah. Two were murdered, their bodies dumped in front of a hospital in Aley. The survivor is being held hostage.


Reports are coming in that the army is sweeping up pro-government supporters in west Beirut. They are also rounding up Al-Qaeda sympathisers. There have been confrontations with Future Current supporters in Akkar in the north, Aley in the mountains, and in the south.

There are strong indications that the army has been coordinating with the opposition during the fighting.

It now seems clear that Hariri's Future Current in west Beirut has collapsed like a house of cards.

TV is showing angry funerals in Sunni areas of Beirut. Amal gunmen fired on the procession killing two.


Some more on the opposition take-over of west Beirut on Thursday.

Hizbollah elite forces hit Saad Hairiri's private security companies shortly after the speech by Hassan Nasrallah. The security guards surrendered and where handed over to the army. Hizbollah then withdrew while fighters loyal to opposition parties (the pan Syrian SNNP, Communist Party, Nasserites and Amal) took control.

A witness who lives in Hamra said he recognised most of them as local boys.

The operation took less than 4 hours. All opposition fighters have now withdrawn from the area, the army controls the streets. The opposition did not enter Druze or Sunni neighbourhoods.

The pattern that is emerging is of mixed areas falling to the opposition. These are local fighters so it’s a question of appearing on the street, then withdrawing home.

One side effect of this crisis is that there are few cars on the road, so pollution levels in Beirut are very low. There are flocks of birds in the sky and a pleasant sea breeze.

Friday, 9 May 2008

Beirut—Friday 9 May

Map shows concentration of clashes in Beirut.

Last updated 1.35am, Saturday

There is not a sound in the city. We'll see what tomorrow brings.


Supporters of the Future Current have gunned down two Druze members of the opposition in Khalde, in the foothills of Beirut. Two were wounded. Reports are also coming in that gunfire was heard in the Druze town of Aley, in the mountains above Beirut. Futher reports are that Jumblat's militia, the PSP (Progressive Socialist Party), has handed strategic positions in the mountains over to the army.

The word on everyones lips is "fitna" — a schism between Sunni and Shia Muslims. At the moment this struggle is political — between the US backed government and opposition, who are supporters of the resistance.

Opposition gunmen, many of them masked, are roaming around the Hamra area of west Beirut, some have flags with pictures of Nasser on them (Al Mourabitoun).


Map shows west Beirut streets seized by the opposition (click on image for detail).


A friend in Ain el Mreisseh (near to the old hotel district) said that Amal fighters from the opposition took over her neighbourhood "pretty quickly this afternoon".


Partisans of the Syrian Social National Party (SSNP) ransacked then set fire to the Future TV building close to the Saudi embassy.

Hariri seems unable to mobilise his supporters, his Beirut home is still surrounded.

Pro-government politicians are on TV condeming Hizbollah for "sending all their forces into west Beirut".


Thursday turned into a bad day for the government. The opposition forces overan Future TV and Al-Mustaqbal offices in west Beirut. Both are the media mouthpieces of Saad Hariri. The buildings have been gutted and torched.

It seems that the pro government fighters (private security forces) walked away from the battle.

Rumours that Walid Jumblat, a key government ally, abandoned his house in the upmarket quarter of Clemenceau proved unfounded. But the threat against his residence seems to have triggered clashes just south of the capital.

There are reports of confrontations yesterday in the northern city of Tripoli between the Future Current and opponents of the government.

To add to the drama there was a ferocious storm overnight.

Thursday, 8 May 2008


Last updated Friday 1.34am

Wednesday 7 May—National strike against low wages.
A trade union protest demanding a rise in the minumum wage came under attack by Future Current gangs from the governing coalition.

The demonstration was "re-routed" the night before by the government. The national strike set for the day turned into a mass stay away -- both because of fear and as part of the the protest.

The demo, called by the General Labour Union, was due to gather in the Barbir area of west Beirut, but armed government thugs stopped the workers gathering.

Clashes developed between Future gangs and those from the opposition Amal movement (Shia vs Sunni). Across the country, including the Sunni areas of Saida, in the south, and Tripoli in the north, there were small anti-government protests.

Opposition demonstrators have blocked the airport road, in response pro-government supporters closed the Beirut-Damascus highway in the Bekaa Valley. There were some confrontations. The night was quiet, but it was very difficult to cross the city.


By the morning a defacto frontline of burning tyres developed between government and opposition areas. Gangs armed with rocks and sticks clashed along the edges of their neighbourhoods. By the afternoon the weapons came out.

These gangs have become quasi militias vying with the army for control over major road junctions.

The army was attempting to keep the sides apart.

We joined in the panic buying of supplies. Bread, pasta and rice are flying off the shelves. Most people are staying in their homes.

By early afternoon there were a series of explosions, followed by the rattle of machineguns.

Hizbollah and their allies in the Free Patriotic Movement -- a mainly Christian organisation who support the opposition -- have not yet entred the fray.

Hassan Nasrallah addressed the nation in the evening, he threatened to attack those who attack Hizbollah. Earlier, a senior Sunni cleric called on Sunnis to turn against on the government.

Heavy exchange of fire followed Nasralla's broadcast. There are rumours that fighting has spread to Druze areas of west Beirut. We can hear gunfire echo across the city.

Hariri appeared on TV later and mocked Nasrallah's speech.

News is filtering through that the army has sent two groups of officers to broker a truce, and Amal gunmen have captured an office belonging to the Future Current.

Monday, 5 May 2008

Istanbul—May Day

Cem Uzun reports from Istanbul on the May Day protest:

Police used more than 1500 tear gas bombs and attacked marchers with batons and water cannon, arresting and beating hundreds of people to prevent the three main Turkish trade union federations, along with the Turk-IS, DISK and KESK left groups marching to Taksim Square in Istanbul.

Tear gas was fired into the Istanbul headquarters building of DISK and also into the accident and emergency department of a nearby hospital.

Taksim Square has been closed to the trade unions since the massacre of May Day 1977 in which 34 died after police opened fire from rooftops surrounding the square.

The three federations along with some 80 other organisations, had called for the square to be reopened to the May Day demonstration. The response of the governor of Istanbul, backed by the government, was to use extreme force.

The head of the Turkish Medical Association, Gencay Gursoy, issued a statement condemning the tear gassing of the hospital. Police raided his house at 5am the following morning and arrested the 70 year old doctor, allegedly for the contents of an article he wrote in the association's journal four years ago.

An internet petition calling for the resignation of the Governor of Istanbul collected 21,500 signatures in 48 hours.