BEIRUT, Lebanon, (AP) -Children returned to school and people went back to work in Lebanon Wednesday after Hezbollah-led protesters called off a nationwide strike that touched off the worst violence yet in the pro-Iranian group’s campaign to topple the U.S.-backed prime minister.
Three people were killed and dozens wounded Tuesday as government supporters and their adversaries battled each other around street barricades with stone-throwing and in some cases gunfire.
The opposition is growing increasingly frustrated after two months of sit-in protests outside Prime Minister Fuad Saniora’s offices. Hezbollah wants him to step down or form a new government giving his foes more power.
As the unrest died down, Saniora left for France to attend an international donors conference aimed at raising billions of dollars in aid for rebuilding Lebanon. Many parts of southern Lebanon remain a wasteland of destruction and rubble five months after Hezbollah’s war with Israel.
Most schools that closed Tuesday after Hezbollah and its allies called the strike reopened as did banks and commercial shops in Beirut and other cities.
Around the country, traffic was once again flowing on roads that had been blocked by burning tires and earthen barricades set up by Hezbollah’s supporters.
Tuesday’s clashes quickly took on a dangerous sectarian tone in a country whose divided communities fought a bloody 1975-1990 civil war. Gunmen from neighboring districts in the northern city of Tripoli — one largely Sunni Muslim, the other largely Alawites, a Shiite Muslim offshoot — fought each other, causing two of the fatalities.
The day gave a glimpse of how quickly the confrontation between Saniora’s government and the Iranian-backed Hezbollah and its allies could spiral out of control, enflame tensions among Sunnis, Shiites and Christians and throw Lebanon into deeper turmoil.
In the evening, the opposition announced it would call off the roadblocks and the general strike, saying it had delivered a warning to the government. But it threatened more protests.