Lebanon mourns 7 killed in Beirut battles
Lebanon has mourned seven people killed in gunbattles in the streets of Beirut, a confrontation that erupted over a long-running probe into last year's massive port blast in the city and raised fears of the country being drawn into further violence.
Underlying the violence are Lebanon's entrenched sectarian divides and growing pushback against the port investigation by the two main Shi'ite Muslim parties, the powerful Hezbollah militant group and its allied Amal Movement.
Schools, banks and government offices across Lebanon shut down for a day of mourning on Friday, while funerals were held in several parts of the country.
At a cemetery in a southern suburb of Beirut, Hezbollah members in military uniforms paid their respects, standing before three coffins draped with the group's yellow flag and covered with white roses. Senior Hezbollah officials attended the funeral.
At a separate funeral for an Amal fighter, also in southern Beirut, gunmen opened fire in the air for several minutes.
Thursday's clashes saw gunmen battling each other for several hours with automatic weapons and rocket-propelled grenades in the streets of Beirut. It was the most violent confrontation in the city in years, echoing the nation's darkest era of the 1975-90 civil war.
The firefight raised the spectre 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 at a protest organised by Hezbollah and Amal which called 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.
Ali Haidar, a 23-year-old Shi'ite who took part in the protest, said nearby residents first started throwing rocks, bottles and furniture, before snipers on rooftops opened fire on the protesters from two directions, leaving people stuck in the middle.
The death toll rose to seven of Friday, after an man succumbed to his injuries, the Health Ministry said. The dead included two fighters from Hezbollah and three from Amal.
Tensions over the port blast have contributed to Lebanon's many troubles, including a currency collapse, hyperinflation, soaring poverty and an energy crisis leading to extended electricity blackouts.
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