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Hezbollah Gunmen Take Control of Beirut

BILL WOLFF: From NPR News in New York, this is the Bryant Park Project.

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Overlooking historic Bryant Park in midtown Manhattan, live from NPR Studios, this is the Bryant Park Project from NPR News. News, information, moms. I'm Rachel Martin.


And I'm Mike Pesca. It's Friday, May 9th, 2008. What do you mean, "moms"?

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PESCA: You can't just throw "moms" out there. I'm intrigued.


MARTIN: Yes I can. It's Mother's Day. Sunday is Mother's Day. A little shout out to our friend, Alison Stewart. It's her first Mother's Day after having a little baby this week, and I'll throw a little shout out to my mom. Happy Mother's Day to my mom. Did you get your mom a present, Mike?

PESCA: Yes, I did. I did.

MARTIN: Are you lying right now?

PESCA: Well, let's just say, she'll podcast this later in the day. She'll - by then, when she hears it, she'll know I have gotten her a present.

MARTIN: Perfect.

PESCA: To my wife, who is a mom. Although there was always a big debate in my household whether my dad should buy my mom a Mother's Day card because it's on the premise of, you're not my mother.

MARTIN: I know. That's a little bit controversial, being the mother of your children.

PESCA: I found out, as a man, just almost always buy the card, like, you almost never go wrong.

MARTIN: Err on the side of doing that. Yeah

PESCA: Yeah. It's a card. It's not a diamond, which is Hallmark's new motto.

MARTIN: Speaking of moms, a famous mom came to talk to us. Susan Sarandon. We talked to her because she is in a new movie that you saw.

PESCA: I did. I am still recovering.

MARTIN: "Speed Racer." And she came in to talk about that film, and we asked her about playing some roles, some feminine roles. She plays a lot of moms in her life, and she likes it.

PESCA: And the conversation went far afield. I think you'll enjoy it.

MARTIN: It did.

PESCA: Also coming up this hour, the New York Police Department has made its reports about every bullet fired between 1996 and 2006 available to the public. We're going to talk with a former NYPD firearms trainer about what the stats mean.

MARTIN: And Good Morning Afghanistan. That, believe it or not, is the name of a very popular national radio show, the first Afghan-run national news program that started after the fall of the Taliban. We're going to talk to the managing director, the young man who started that radio show, Barry Salaam.

He's going to talk to us about the status of the media landscape in Afghanistan. There's been a little bit of a government crackdown in recent weeks and months when it comes to freedom of expression on the airwaves in Afghanistan. All of that, plus today's news headlines in just a minute. But first...

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MARTIN: Tensions are high in Beirut, Lebanon as after three days of gun battles, Hezbollah fighters have taken control of much of the city.

PESCA: Heavy fighting in Beirut has left at least 11 dead and 20 wounded. Hezbollah fighters, who were Shiites, fought Sunni pro-government groups and have now taken over the Muslim area of the capital city. Earlier today, they attacked a pro-government TV station and forced it off the air.

MARTIN: Rania Masri of Raleigh, North Carolina is a professor at Balamand University in Lebanon. She was caught in a high rise apartment building near much of the fighting.

Professor RANIA MASRI (Environmental Science, University of Balamand): The shooting has been almost nonstop since four p.m. yesterday, almost nonstop. At most, there is two to three minutes of silence and then there's gunfire. Personally, I'm familiar with these sounds.

People are hiding within their homes. They're staying away from the windows. Myself, I was on the eighth floor. I went down to the sixth floor where it's a little bit safer. I have friends who spent the night in the bathtubs with their children. So people are trying to stay as much as they can in the interior of their homes.

PESCA: The clashes began earlier this week when Lebanon's government declared Hezbollah's private military-communications network illegal. Hezbollah's leaders say that the ruling amounted to a declaration of war against the group.

MARTIN: The violence marks an escalation in tensions that have been simmering in Lebanon for some time now. Many observers are drawing parallels to the civil war that gripped the country from 1975 to 1990. Yesterday, in Washington, State Department Spokesman Sean McCormack said the U.S. is monitoring the situation.

Mr. SEAN MCCORMACK (Assistant Secretary, Public Affairs, U.S. Department of State): Certainly, as we are watching this unfold, it is a source of concern for us. I'm sure that it is an even greater source of concern for the Lebanese people who've, once again, seen their daily lives interrupted.

PESCA: A National Security Council spokesman, Gordon Johndroe, said of the violence, quote, "Hezbollah needs to make a choice. Be a terrorist organization or be a political party but quit trying to be both. They need to stop their disruptive activities now."

MARTIN: Meanwhile in Lebanon, Rania Masri says people there are trying to stay optimistic in the face of the violence.

Prof. MASRI: It's like there's an enforced sense of calm that may not be realistic. What we do know is so long as it remains in select neighborhoods in Beirut, then there is hope that it can be stopped through a negotiation. So if it is going to die down, then it will die down within the next few days or within the next week. If it does not die down within the week, then we are entering the next stage of warfare.

PESCA: You can go to throughout the day for updates on this story. Now let's some more of today's headlines with the BPP's Mark Garrison. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.