Students Killed in Beirut Clashes

At least two students were shot dead and 30 others were injured today in street battles between rival groups at the Beirut Arab University.

Thirteen army soldiers were also injured in cross fire as fierce fights erupted between youths loyal to the opposition alliance -- led by Hezbollah -- and supporters of the Western-backed government. Not risking any chances of renewed violence, the army has imposed an overnight curfew on the city.

The fighting spread from the university to other Muslim neighborhoods of the capital, as young people armed with sticks and rocks smashed car windows and set off fires.

Troops backed by armored personnel carriers headed toward the scene, as black smoke from the dozens of cars set ablaze billowed over the area. Lebanese troops and police cordoned off the area around the university and dispersed the students.

Gunfire could be heard across the capital as the army tried to restore calm. Shots had earlier been fired at the students from rooftops in the vicinity of the university. The rioting reached districts adjacent to the airport road, causing thousands of soldiers to be deployed throughout the capital. The highway to the south of country was also cut off.

Hezbollah spokesman Hussein Rahal blamed supporters of the government for sparking the clashes. "Today's action was planed by them [pro-goverment forces] as a reaction against our general strike action," he said. "We will not react by violence. But we will pressure the government to punish those responsible for the killings."

Meanwhile Samir Frangiya, a member of the pro-government March 14th alliance said, "I hope that the memory of the Lebanese civil war was still strong enough in the memory of most to deter them from repeating the same mistake."

Television stations run by both camps blamed each other for the violence. Leaders of both sides called for calm. Nabih Berri, leader of the Shiite Party Amal, called on his followers to leave the streets immediately and Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah warned his followers not to fall into the trap of those that would see Lebanon slide into civil war.

Sunni leader and a member of the current government, Saad Hariri called on his supporters to exert self-restraint, adding that the continued violence was a way to sabotage the very positive results of the donor's conference for Lebanon taking place in Paris today.

The opposition launched nationwide protests on Tuesday to topple the Cabinet of Prime Minister Fouad Siniora. The protests shut down much of Lebanon and sparked violent incidents in which three people were killed and 176 wounded. The opposition demands include veto power in government and early parliamentary elections.

Though all sides are urging restraint, Lebanon has been plagued by violence throughout this week. It remains to be seen if the $7.6 billion in aid pledged at the donor's conference will help restore a sense of security to Lebanon.

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