Lebanon News

Protesters urge action as govt meets

Civil Defense volunteers chained their hands during the protest. (The Daily Star/Hasan Shaaban)

BEIRUT: Hundreds of protesters with a range of demands gathered in Riad al-Solh Square Thursday as the Cabinet convened for a session nearby at the Grand Serail.

Civil Defense volunteers demanding paid, full-time positions, Civil Aviation applicants waiting to be appointed to their posts and opponents of the Bisri Dam project all held parallel demonstrations in the square.

The Civil Defense volunteers, who have demanded for years that Cabinet approve a decree to secure them paid, full-time jobs, massed in Riad al-Solh Square, bound to one another by metal chains locked around their wrists.

Lebanon has some 2,553 Civil Defense volunteers. Most are ambulance first responders, rescue workers and firefighters.

“Unfortunately, our [demands] are locked down with chains, like many other [people’s demands]. These locks represent the locks on people’s rights,” Youssef al-Mallah, the group’s spokesperson, told reporters. “We have martyrs. ... While most people run from fires, we go inside where it’s 300 and 400 degrees [Celsius],” he said.

Civil Defense volunteers had also launched an open-ended sit-in in Martyrs’ Square in late March, Mallah said, vowing they would continue there until their demands were met.

“We’ve been there for a week. No one looked at us,” he said, urging MPs and ministers to support their cause. “You don’t have to [pay for the] call. Just give us a missed call and I’m willing to call you back.”

He called on Interior Minister Raya El Hassan in particular to push for the Cabinet to approve their employment.

Former Interior Minister Nouhad Machnouk signed a decree to secure Civil Defense volunteers a fixed post and submitted it to the Cabinet for approval in March last year, with no progress reported since.

At Riad al-Solh Square, the group of Civil Aviation applicants called on President Michel Aoun to sign the decree that would secure their employment. The applicants have been protesting for months, after having passed the Civil Service Board’s exams at the Directorate-General of Civil Aviation.

Multiple sources previously told The Daily Star that implementation of the decree, which would see 110 new employees hired at the airport, including 25 air traffic controllers, had been held up due to sectarian issues, because only about eight of the 110 were Christian.

The decree has been signed by the prime minister, finance minister and transport minister, but has yet to be signed by Aoun. “We request the president to sign the decree. ... How is he fighting corruption, but the decree is still with him? ... We demand to know now when we will be hired,” one of the protesters said in a live broadcast on local TV station LBCI.

Meanwhile, a group gathered to protest against the building of a dam in the Bisri Valley as part of a World Bank-funded project that would create a 125-million-cubic-meter reservoir in one of south Lebanon’s most culturally and ecologically rich areas.

“We are against the project,” one of the Bisri Dam protesters said, stressing that it would “destroy an agricultural valley” home to Roman and Phoenician ruins.

Environmental groups strongly oppose the creation of the dam, citing issues related to biodiversity, cultural heritage, public health, the local economy and seismic activity.

Earlier last month, opponents of the dam submitted a petition against it to the World Bank with 22,500 signatures.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on April 05, 2019, on page 2.




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