Beirut, Oct.15 (BNA): Schools, banks and government offices across Lebanon shut down Friday after hours of gun battles between heavily armed militias killed seven people and terrorized the residents of Beirut, reports AP.
The government called for a day of mourning following the armed clashes, in which gunmen used automatic weapons and rocket-propelled grenades on the streets of the capital, echoing the nation’s darkest era of the 1975-90 civil war.
The gun battles raised the specter of a return to sectarian violence in a country already struggling through one of the world’s worst economic crises of the past 150 years.
The violence broke out Thursday at a protest organized by the two main Shiite parties - Hezbollah and the Amal Movement - calling for the removal of the lead judge investigating last year’s massive explosion at Beirut port.
Officials from both parties have suggested the judge’s investigation is heading toward holding them responsible for the blast, which killed at least 215 people.
Many of the protesters had been armed. It was not clear who fired the first shot, but the confrontation quickly devolved into heavy exchanges of gunfire along a former civil war frontline separating predominantly Muslim and Christian areas of Beirut.
Gunfire echoed for hours, and ambulances rushed to pick up casualties. Snipers shot from buildings. Bullets penetrated apartment windows in the area. Schools were evacuated and residents hid in shelters.