LEBANON: Troubles continue on Beirut's fiery streets
Politicians issued hot rhetoric as smoke and fire smoldered on the streets of Hezbollah-controlled West Beirut.
At a checkpoint near Beirut's fashionable waterfront, a young man in sunglasses and an olive T-shirt held an AK-47 assault rifle. He couldn't have been more than 18.
Hardened Hezbollah fighters in full camouflage rested next to buildings, rocket-propelled grenade launchers at their sides.
Militiamen set fire to the pro-government Future movement's old headquarters (above), which now serves as an archival repository.
Earlier in the day, Hezbollah in effect shut down the Future movement's television stations by scaring off employees and then snipping key cables that will prevent it from broadcasting for some days, said a station official.
Armed activists from the Hezbollah-aligned Syrian Socialist National Party proudly claimed responsibility for torching the building. They wrapped scarves around their faces and posed for the television cameras.
The moves outraged journalism advocacy groups, including the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists.
Elsewhere, their loyalists had plastered posters of Syrian president Bashar Assad (below) over images of Lebanese Sunni leader Saad Hariri, who has alleged that Damascus ordered the 2005 assassination of his father Rafik Hariri.
Such impunity outraged government supporters.
After a meeting with pro-government allies, Christian leader Samir Geagaa read a statement describing Hezbollah's takeover of West Beirut as a "fiery coup."
He called on the army to fulfill its obligations. So far the army has largely faciliated Hezbollah's moves by taking over offices and buildings (below) that the group clears of political enemies.
He said Hezbollah's action amounted to a move by Syria to re-occupy Lebanon, which it had left under international pressure in 2005. He also said it was an attempt by Iran extend its political reach to the Mediterranean Sea.
By afternoon Hezbollah's Al Manar television tried to depict the miltia as the good guys. It broadcast interviews with the patriarchs of prominent Beirut families who praised Hezbollah's offensive for getting rid of "thugs" who had been harassing locals.
It reported that calm prevailed in Beirut now that it had regained its "Arabism."
—Raed Rafei and Borzou Daragahi in Beirut
Photos: Scenes from Beirut. Credit: Raed Rafei