Shiite Opposition Riots Block Major Roads in Lebanon, 3 Killed

Hundreds of angry Shiite Muslims protested electricity rationing by blocking some major roads in Beirut and its southern suburbs Sunday, forcing Lebanese troops to intervene, security officials said. Three people were reported killed and 10 wounded.

The riots started in the afternoon when some 50 government opposition supporters set tires on fire closing the Mar Mikhael intersection, which is a major link between different areas of Beirut, said the security officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not allowed to speak to the media.

Scores of troops arrived shortly afterward and opened fire in the air to disperse the demonstrators, they said.

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Two people, one of them an official with the Shiite Amal group, were killed on the spot in the shooting near Mar Mikhael while the third died of his wounds at a hospital in southern Beirut, the officials said. Ten people were wounded, they said.

Later in the day, hundreds of opposition supporters blocked the road leading to the capital's airport as well as the Mar Elias thoroughfare in western Beirut. On the airport road, burning tires caused a traffic jam, but cars could be still seen passing through while in Mar Elias, troops removed the tires.

After sunset, dozens of protesters gathered again in Mar Mikhael and set tires on fire as troops watched from a distance.

The Amal group of Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri issued a statement urging its supporters "to be calm and not have any (violent) reaction in the streets." It identified the member killed as Ahmed Hamza, and said the military would investigate the incident.

At about 6:30 p.m., scores of opposition supporters briefly blocked a coastal road between the southern cities of Tyre and Sidon to protest the shooting of Hamza, according to residents in the area. In the eastern Bekaa Valley, several roads were blocked by opposition supporters. Both areas are predominantly Shiite.

Another local television station, LBC, said three people were wounded during the incident in Mar Mikhael. Police forces prevented vehicles from getting close to the area for fear of further shooting.

Electricity cutoffs in recent months were extended for the first time to Beirut, where more than 1 million Lebanese live. More than 10 years after Lebanon's 1975-90 civil war, the country's power grid has still not been fully restored, and such protests have been common in the past weeks, mainly in areas where the opposition has strong support.

Lebanon is embroiled in its worse political crisis since the end of the civil war. Former President Emile Lahoud left office on Nov. 23 without a successor, and parliament has so far failed to elect the army chief to replace him amid bickering between the parliament majority and the opposition. Sunday's tension occurred as Arab foreign ministers were to meet in Egypt to discuss the crisis in Lebanon.