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Lebanon’s Aoun Calls for Unity after Saturday Night of Sectarian Unrest

Lebanese President Michel Aoun issued a call for national unity on Sunday following a night of clashes between anti-government protesters and supporters of the Shi’ite Hizbullah movement. “Our strength remains in our national unity,” Aoun said, according to a Twitter post by his office. “What happened last night is a warning bell. We must put our political disputes aside and work quickly together to revive our country from the depth of the successive crises.” The violence, during which gunfire could occasionally be heard, took place around central Beirut after people exploited a relaxation of coronavirus shutdowns to resume protests over government corruption and financial ineptitude, drawing a police response of tear gas, stun grenades and rubber bullets. The violence spiked in the evening when Hizbullah supporters appeared and began attacking the protesters. The anti-government demonstrations have lately featured calls for the disarmament of Hizbullah, the only one of the country’s militias that was allowed to retain its weapons after the end of the 1975-1990 civil war. The Iran-backed Shi’ite group maintains a militant stance against Israel and has played a central role in aiding Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to face down anti-government rebels.