Lebanon News

Jubilant yet defiant third day of mass protests

BEIRUT: Following the night of a violent crackdown by security forces on protesters, Lebanese people returned to Downtown Beirut and multiple locations across the country Saturday, waving cellphones in the air and lighting candles.

Protesters have been on the streets since Thursday, calling on the government to resign and condemning its proposals to impose taxes on citizens already suffering from the country’s dire economic situation.

Tens of thousands took to the streets of Beirut on the third day of protests, after a night that saw security forces unleash a massive crackdown on protesters, liberally using tear gas, firing rubber bullets and detaining dozens.

"Today the atmosphere is much nicer than yesterday," 26-year-old Elissa Balan told The Daily Star in Beirut.

"They brought thugs to create chaos and scare people off from protesting. But the people defied them and came and protested anyway."

The protests in Downtown Beirut continued to grow throughout the day, with the main road between Riad al-Solh and Martyrs' squares filling end-to-end with demonstrators.

The atmosphere remained carnival-like, with protesters setting off fireworks, singing revolutionary songs and blasting music through loudspeakers. The scene was a sea of Lebanese flags and white baseball caps that had been distributed among the crowd. From the steps of the Mohammad al-Amin Mosque, a young man with a megaphone led the national anthem and chants of "all of [the politicians] means all of them."

As day turned to night, protesters showed no signs of going home. In Riad al-Solh Square, they waved cellphone torches; in Ashrafieh's Sassine Square and Tripoli's Al-Nour Square, they held up candles to express their peaceful protest.

"Today is much better than yesterday," 41-year-old Talal Imash told The Daily Star from Beirut's Martyrs' Square.

"We are larger in numbers, and our unity feels much stronger. The more [the security forces] hurt us or hit us, the stronger we become."

Hundreds protested in Tripoli, Tyre, Baalbeck and other towns and cities, with demonstrators setting up tents in numerous locations, indicating that their protest is there to stay.

Many roads and main highways across the country were blocked, including a main highway connecting north Lebanon to Beirut near Jal al-Dib and another connecting the capital to the south near Khaldeh. The Army requested that protesters move from the area, but they refused.

Videos circulated by local media showed people with rifles shooting from a car at protesters who threw rocks at them in south Lebanon.

Local TV channel Al Jadeed said the people belonged to the Amal Movement, which is one of the dominant parties in the area.

Al Jadeed’s crew said they were attacked by Amal Movement supporters in Tyre and had to leave the city.

Other videos showed protesters saying that they were attacked by Amal Movement supporters when their protest coincided with another demonstration the movement was holding in support of its leader, Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri.

The Amal Movement later issued a statement saying it is against having armed people in the city and that it would conduct an investigation to see who was responsible for what happened.

On Friday night, the entrance of a resort in Tyre, reportedly owned by Berri’s family, was set on fire. Protesters Saturday chanted, “Thief, thief, Nabih Berri is a thief.”

Earlier in the day, activists gathered to protest outside the Sakanet al-Helou police campus, where they said between 30 and 40 protesters were being detained from the night before.

“There are 30, 40 people inside. Whichever party they belong to, they are our brothers,” Waref Sleiman, an activist who participated in the 2015 garbage crisis protests, said to TV cameras. Sleiman was detained himself on Thursday and released Saturday.

Interior Minister Raya El Hassan said later that most of the detained protesters would be released.

"Most of those detained will be released with a proof of residency, and investigations will be completed to check if the detainees carried out acts of vandalism, theft and the burning of public and private property," Hassan tweeted.

All but two protesters were released later in the day, the Internal Security Forces announced. Of the two who remained detained, one had an unpaid fine in his name and the other was held on suspicion of drug offenses.

 

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