France calls for restraint in Lebanon fighting
The United States led international condemnation of political violence in Lebanon as fierce gunbattles raged in Beirut, leaving at least seven people dead.9 May 2008
WASHINGTON - The United States Thursday led international condemnation of political violence in Lebanon as fierce gunbattles raged in Beirut, leaving at least seven people dead.
Washington blamed the violence on Shiite militant group Hezbollah, demanding that its supporters "stop their disruptive activities".
The UN Security Council expressed deep concern and appealed for calm and the reopening of the country's roads, after armed clashes intensified between pro-government and Hezbollah factions in the streets of Beirut.
And France described the renewed fighting in its former protectorate as "worrying" and called for restraint.
US national security council spokesman Gordon Johndroe told reporters in Washington: "Hezbollah needs to make a choice: Be a terrorist organisation or be a political party, but quit trying to be both."
"They need to stop their disruptive activities now," he said.
Meanwhile, the UN called for a return to security in the country.
"The members of the Security Council are deeply concerned about the current clashes and unrest in Lebanon, including the blocking of major roads and Beirut international airport," said John Sawers, Britain's UN ambassador and the current council president.
"They stress the need to uphold the security and sovereignty of Lebanon and express their support for the constitutional institutions of the country.
"They urge all sides to exercise calm and restraint and call for the immediate reopening of all roads."
In a statement released by its foreign ministry, France reiterated "its support for the government of Lebanon, and the army in carrying out its duties and constitutional obligations, including the preservation of the security and stability of the country."
"We are following developments very closely, especially to ensure the protection of the French community," the ministry said.
The United Arab Emirates has already begun evacuating its nationals from Beirut on Thursday, the official Wam news agency said.
"Some Emirati nationals in Beirut have been evacuated to ensure their security," UAE Ambassador Mohammad Sultan Al-Suweidi was quoted as saying.
It said the evacuees had been flown to Damascus, but gave no details about the number of people involved.
Lebanon has been rocked by two days of clashes between supporters of the Western-backed government and the Hezbollah-led opposition, leaving at least seven dead, the international airport closed and many roads blocked.
The rival factions were engaged in shootouts in several mixed Sunni and Shiite Muslim districts of the capital, with militants using rocket-propelled grenades and machine guns, a security official said.
The fighting erupted after Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah charged that a Lebanese government crackdown on his group's activities was tantamount to a "declaration of war".
A prominent leader of the Christian opposition, Michel Aoun, called for an immediate return to negotiations in comments aired by Hezbollah's Al-Manar television.
The violence cast a shadow on US President George W. Bush's visit to the region next week, which will focus on the Middle East peace process but also on Lebanon.
Bush will discuss the crisis with Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Siniora in talks in the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheikh, Johndroe said.
[AFP / Expatica]