BEIRUT, Lebanon (AP) – Police clashed with rioters who burned tires, threw stones and fired guns in protest against attempts to demolish illegal housing in Lebanon’s capital on Friday.
Police said at least five people suffered gunshot wounds, but it was not immediately clear whether they were wounded by fire from the rioters or police officers.
The rioters blocked one of the two main roads leading to Beirut airport where it passes through the city’s southern suburbs. The main highway to the airport remained open, however.
Police said that when their officers arrived to enforce a government order to remove illegal shacks in the southern districts, local residents hurled stones at them and blocked the streets with burning tires and trash cans.
Armed men in the crowd opened fire on the police, prompting them to return fire, a police spokesman said, speaking on customary condition of anonymity.
The five gunshot casualties were civilians, the spokesman said, adding that the rioters damaged three police vehicles.
The city’s southern districts are a stronghold of Hezbollah, the political party and militant group that was targeted by Israel during its 34-day offensive in Lebanon in July and August. Israeli aircraft inflicted massive damage on parts of the southern suburbs, leveling entire blocks around suspected offices and homes of Hezbollah officials.
Friday’s riot comes at a time of political tension in Lebanon, with Hezbollah and its allies calling for a national unity government. The Western-backed Prime Minister Fouad Saniora and his political allies oppose such a move.