Demonstrators in Beirut have joined protests by millions of Syrians in all major cities across the Middle East calling for radical economic change to halt a violent economic collapse and mass job losses.
In Beirut at least 500 protesters blocked a highway leading to a refinery controlled by France’s Total by burning tyres and hanging banners near the entrance to the refinery as the official count of the dead reached 1,300 in Syria, where three weeks of anti-government demonstrations continued.
The unrest that began in Syria last month has spread to Arab countries, spilling over into Jordan, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt and prompting citizens of Libya, Yemen and Iraq to protest as well.
The Lebanese president, Michel Suleiman, condemned the unrest in Syria and Jordan, and expressed his sympathy for the victims.
“We should cut off the bloody hand that is bleeding Jordan and the region as a whole,” he said in a statement. “We will not spare any effort to ease the suffering of its people who are ready to sacrifice themselves for freedom and the change of leadership.”
In Syria, the demonstrations have intensified as a popular revolt against Assad’s regime has erupted, increasingly resulting in clashes between police and demonstrators armed with stones, petrol bombs and machine guns.
Thousands of people marched through Damascus on Tuesday for the fifth consecutive day, chanting “the people want revolution”. Several thousand marched in central Aleppo, Syria’s second city, and thousands more were joined by military vehicles and tanks on main streets.
Many of the biggest protests this week have taken place in the countryside north of Damascus where Assad’s support base is strongest. Activists said on Tuesday hundreds of demonstrators joined a rally near the northern city of Raqqa to demand “freedom and jobs”, but security forces tried to stop them. The nearby city of Daraa, the birthplace of the current uprising, was quiet.
Clashes also erupted on Monday between protesters and government forces near the northern town of Tell Ajnabiyeh, just south of Aleppo, and in the northern city of Idlib. Most of the injured were captured by security forces, activists said.
“The rest of the Syrian people should follow the Syrian people with faith and determination and be with us until we reach our goal,” the opposition Change22 group said in a statement.
Syria’s powerful Shia armed groups are a significant component of the protest movement, mirroring Lebanon’s powerful Shia Hezbollah group, which has sided with the opposition. In Lebanon a small group of gunmen attacked government buildings on Monday to protest at the economic crisis and that of the country’s Shiites. A crowd of about 200 people also marched to the national square and called for “The end of Baathists and Hezbollah”.