Students killed in clash at a Beirut university

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Students for and against the government hurled rocks and furniture at each other today as Lebanon's power struggle turned violent on a university campus, security officials said.

Hezbollah's Al-Manar television said one of the militant group's supporters was killed, but security officials could not immediately confirm the death. Security officials said at least 17 people were injured. Other TV stations reported that about 25 people were hurt.

Soldiers firing shots in the air dispersed the rioters at the Beirut Arab University in the Tarik el-Jadideh neighbourhood, the officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Red Cross ambulances took the injured to hospital.

The trouble in the Sunni Muslim neighbourhood spilled over to nearby streets, where people from outside the university joined in the fight. Young men carrying sticks and wearing hard hats arrived in the area and started throwing stones at each other. Some in the crowd smashed parked car windows and ripped doors and furniture before setting several cars on fire, causing thick black smoke to billow into the air.

More troops arrived in armoured vehicles as soldiers fired volleys of automatic rifles in the air, and residents of the area fled for cover. The army closed the road on the southern edge of the Lebanese capital.

Officials said the riot started after students belonging to the Shiite Muslim Amal Movement, which supports the Hezbollah-led opposition, argued with members of the pro-government Future Movement over the responsibility for Tuesday's general strike. Three people were fatally shot and more than 170 people wounded in clashes during the strike, which pro-Hezbollah opposition had called in a bid to bring down the US-backed government.

Hezbollah students later joined the fight at the university. But the Shiite Muslim militant group, in a statement on its television station, accused pro-government factions of provoking the clashes and called on its supporters to get off the streets to "avoid a strife which is being inflamed" by pro-government groups.

The opposition has staged two months of demonstrations and sit-ins in a bid to topple the government of Prime Minister Fuad Saniora. The prime minister has refused the opposition's demand for veto-wielding share of the Cabinet.

The confrontation has taken sectarian lines, a dangerous development for a country that fought a civil war in 1975-90. Shiite Muslims support the opposition; Sunni Muslims tend to support the prime minister; and Christian parties are divided between the two camps.