Appointment of new prime minister in Lebanon sparks riots.
Thousands of anti-government protesters inspired by the Tunisian revolution clashed with riot police in the centre of Cairo today demanding the overthrow of president Hosni Mubarak.
Police responded with water cannon and attacked crowds with batons and tear gas to clear crowds demanding an end to the country’s grinding poverty.
The prostest, the largest Egypt has seen for years, began peacefully, with police showing unusual restraint in what appeared to be a concerted government effort not to provoke a Tunisia-like mass revolt.
As the crowds in central Cairo’s main Tahrir square continued to build, however, security personnel changed tactics and the protest turned violent.
Demonstrators attacked the police water canon truck, opening the driver’s door and ordering the man out of the vehicle.
Some hurled rocks and dragged metal barricades. Officers beat back protesters with batons as they tried to break cordons to join the main group of demonstrators downtown.
To the north, in the Mediterranean port city of Alexandria, thousands of protesters also marched in what was dubbed a ‘Day of Rage’ against Mr Mubarak and lack of political freedoms under his rule.
In another parallel with the Tunisia protests, the calls for rallies went out on Facebook and Twitter, with 90,000 saying they would attend.
The protests coincided with a national holiday honouring Egypt’s much-feared police.
Demonstrators in Cairo sang the national anthem and carried banners denouncing Mr Mubarak and the widespread fraud that plagues the country’s elections. The organisers said the protests were a ‘day of revolution against torture, poverty, corruption and unemployment.’
Mothers carrying babies marched and chanted, ‘Revolution until Victory!’ while young men parked their cars on the main street and waved signs.
The noisy crowd was joined by cars driving alongside and honking their horns. People cried ‘Long Live a Free Tunisia,’ and waving Tunisian and Egyptian flags while police initially stood on the crowd’s periphery.
The rallies came against a backdrop of growing anger in Egypt over widespread poverty and unemployment, as well as questions about whether Mr Mubarak will run again in presidential elections later this year or perhaps position his son to run.
The first ramifications of the Tunisia uprising surfaced last week in Egypt when several people set themselves on fire outside parliament and the prime minister’s office.
Their actions sought to copy a young Tunisian vegetable seller whose self-immolation helped spark the protests that forced Tunisia’s authoritarian president to flee the country.
Nearly half of Egypt’s 80 million people live under or just above the poverty line set by the United Nations at 2 dollars a day.
Poor quality education, health care and high unemployment have left large numbers deprived of basic needs.
Soon after the removal on January 14 of Tunisia’s president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, all eyes focused on Egypt, with observers wondering if the dramatic events in the North African nation could spur unrest against another entrenched Arab regime.
Meanwhile, in Lebanon, a prime minster backed by pro-Iranian Hezbollah was appointed sparking angry street protests and fears the move would plunge the country into a new crisis.
Billionaire businessman and former premier Najib Mikati, Hezbollah’s chosen candidate, moved immediately to try and reassure the country declaring : ‘My hand is extended to all Lebanese, Muslims and Christians, in order to build and not to destroy.’
But thousands of demonstrators took to the streets of major cities on what they also called a ‘day of rage’, accusing Hebzbollah of engineering the collapse of the previous unity government of outgoing Premier Saad Hariri.
It was Hezbollah that was behind the kidnap of Western hostages, including Terry Waite and John McCarthy in the 1980s, as well as an attack on US marines in Beirut that killed 241, and their control over the government for the first time will sound alarm bells in Washington and Israel and raise concerns in moderate Arab states.
The vote caps the Shia organisation’s steady rise over the past few decades from a resistance group fighting Israel to Lebanon’s most powerful military and political force.The shift in the balance of power drew warnings from the U.S. that its support for Lebanon could be in jeopardy, demonstrating the risks of international isolation if Hezbollah pushes too far.
Many fear Lebanon’s political crisis could re-ignite sectarian fighting similar to Shiite-Sunni street clashes that killed 81 people in Beirut in 2008. Hezbollah’s rise also looked likely to also raise tensions with Israel, which borders Lebanon to the south.
Hezbollah and Israel fought a short but devastating war in 2006.Hezbollah had forced the collapse of the government of Mr Hariri after a bitter row over a UN tribunal investigating the 2005 murder of his father Rafik.
Mr Hariri had refused to renounce the UN inquiry which is said to implicate senior Hezbollah figures in the murder. Hezbollah says the investigation – and its conclusions – are politically motivated.
Despite opposition from the Hariri camp, Mr Mikati is seen as a relatively neutral choice who enjoys good relations with both Syrian President Bashar Assad and Mr Hariri, whose bloc has insisted it will not join a government led by a Hezbollah-backed candidate, which could mean months of political deadlock ahead in Lebanon.
The biggest protest over the appointment took place in the northern city of Tripoli where medical sources said 20 people were treated for injuries and protesters set fire to a satellite truck used by the Arab television channel Al Jazeera.
Mr Hariri appealed for calm, saying he rejected demonstrations of violence. ‘You are angry but you are responsible people,’ he said.
‘Sunni blood is boiling’ chanted protesters in Tripoli, urging Mr Mikati, a Sunni Muslim, to withdraw his nomination and waving flags of Mr Hariri’s Future Movement which says it will not serve in any government dominated by the militant Shi’ite group.
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