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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Protests, Gunfights, Fires Rock Beirut

BEIRUT, Lebanon -- Thousands of Shiite Muslim and Christian protesters blocked roads in Lebanon with blazing tires Tuesday in a campaign to oust the government, and at least one person was killed in gunfire between rival factions.

Black smoke billowed over Beirut as demonstrators shut main roads, including those to the port and international airport. Organizers from Hezbollah, their faces covered in black masks, prowled on motorcycles, walkie-talkies clamped to their mouths.

"This government only understands force and today is only a small lesson," protester Jamil Wahb said in the predominantly Shiite southern suburbs. "We will stay here until they give in."

One man was killed and four were wounded during a firefight between opposition and pro-government crowds in the northern Christian village of Halba, security sources said.

They said the clash involved members of the pro-government Future movement and the Syrian Social Nationalist Party, or SSNP.

In other violence, a gunman fired on protesters in the ancient Christian town of Byblos, wounding three people before soldiers arrested him. Two protesters were wounded in a shooting in Batroun. An SSNP member was hit in the head by a bullet near the mountain village of Sofar. At least a dozen people were hurt in scuffles elsewhere, especially in Christian areas.

The strike escalates a campaign by Hezbollah, which is backed by Syria and Iran, and its allies to replace the government and hold early parliamentary elections.

Lebanese soldiers fired into the air to keep stone-throwing crowds apart in Beirut and on a highway to the north.

The army, which has been guarding government offices in central Beirut since the opposition began protesting there Dec. 1, has few extra troops to deploy. It is already stretched after moving thousands of men to south Lebanon and the Syrian border following Hezbollah's war with Israel last year.

One Christian leader said Tuesday's protests were tantamount to a coup attempt against the Western-backed government.

Prime Minister Fouad Siniora has shrugged off the opposition demands and announced a major economic reform plan ahead of Thursday's Paris international donor conference, which the government hopes will yield billions of dollars for Lebanon's debt-laden economy.

Officials said Siniora, who had been scheduled to leave for Paris on Tuesday, was following the unrest from his office in downtown Beirut. They did not say if he would fly out or how.