Lebanon News

Activists storm state-run TV station as protests hold steady

A Lebanese protester with her face painted in Lebanon's national flag attends demonstrations to demand better living conditions and the ouster of a cast of politicians who have monopolised power and influence for decades, on October 21, 2019, north of Beirut. AFP / JOSEPH EID

BEIRUT: In one of the most memorable scenes of the mass anti-establishment demonstrations so far, a group of Lebanese actors Tuesday stormed the headquarters of the state-run Tele Liban to oppose its lack of protest coverage.

The sixth day of protests got off to a slow start following a display of aggression by supporters of Hezbollah and the Amal Movement the night before. However, as the day wore on, tens of thousands gathered in Beirut’s Riad al-Solh and Martyrs’ squares and in countless towns and cities across the country.

Tele Liban, which falls under the Information Ministry, had paid minimal attention to the huge mobilization of people across the country who have called for the resignation of the government and Parliament.

In protest, a dozen Lebanese actors forced their way into the TV station’s West Beirut headquarters Tuesday morning.

“This station belongs to the millions that went down to protest,” actor Badih Abou Chakra said.

One of Tele Liban’s employees came down to speak with the artists and told them that “as journalists, we have to cover what’s happening in this country,” adding that she had contacted Minister Jamal Jarrah to speak to him about the channel’s coverage. Her comments evoked applause among the artists.

After about 15 minutes, the actors left the building and sang the Lebanese national anthem on the steps outside, waving Lebanese flags.

The red, white and green of the Lebanese flag flew high across Beirut Tuesday, with thousands gathering around stages for live music and DJs, chanting anti-government songs and shouting revolutionary slogans.

Some had been camping out in tents from the night before.

While the morning saw protesters descending to the streets in smaller numbers than before, street vendors selling flags, narguileh and snacks were more present than ever, and energy among demonstrators remained high.

Many roads in Beirut and across the country were blocked intermittently throughout the day with burning tires, overturned trash bins, rubble or protesters themselves as demonstrators call for politicians to resign and be held accountable.

A brightly painted bus blocked the highway in Kesrouan’s Ghazir.

Outside the Central Bank in Hamra, hundreds cut off traffic from the road, chanting “thief, thief, thief.” Dozens also gathered outside Tripoli’s branch of the bank, chanting, “Down with the rule of the [Central] Bank.”

Tens of thousands had gathered in Lebanon’s second city by mid-afternoon. The majority-Sunni city, which has high levels of poverty and is often regarded as an area neglected by the political class, has consistently been one of the largest gathering points in the protests that erupted Thursday.

As darkness descended, the Tripoli’s al-Nour Square once again turned out en masse. One man, standing at a vantage point above the crowd, held a microphone and asked the protesters “Will we leave the streets?”

“No!” came the impassioned reply.

Monday, Prime Minister Saad Hariri announced a list of reforms, including cuts to officials’ salaries and the privatization of the telecoms sector, in an attempt to appease demonstrators.

The reforms, many of them recycled proposals, failed to gain the confidence of many on the streets, who returned to protest Tuesday. The main highway, which runs the length of the Lebanese coast, from Tyre in the south to Tripoli in the north, remained cut off by road blocks at multiple points Tuesday.

In Sidon, roads were blocked by obstacles rather than burning tires. Despite their closure, ambulances and emergency vehicles were allowed to pass.

Some protesters in the southern port city clashed with Popular Nasserite Organization supporters as they demanded that its leader, MP Osama Saad, step down. “Most of the people here are from the Popular Nasserite Organization. I did not ask them to join but they did, because that is how they were raised and that is their political alignment,” Saad told the crowd.

Protesters spent the night outside the Nabatieh Serail, railing against the current economic situation and calling on the Cabinet to resign.

Media coverage of the nationwide protests sparked debate within a second state-run media institution as it was revealed the information minister had fired Laure Sleiman, who had been at the helm of the National News Agency for 11 years. In an interview with local TV channel Al Jadeed, Sleiman said that while the official decision was dated Oct. 17, last Thursday, she had only gotten word of it early Tuesday morning. The date was false, she alleged.

However, Jarrah said Tuesday evening the decision to appoint Sleiman’s replacement, Ziad Harfoush, had been made on Oct. 9 following an interview, and that it was made official on Oct. 17.

Rumors circulated on social media following the news that Sleiman was let go because of the NNA’s protest reporting. Addressing the rumors, Sleiman said that she did not know why she was fired, but that “if my dismissal is my punishment for publishing the voice of the people, then I am proud.” - Additional reporting by Mohammed Zaatari

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on October 23, 2019, on page 1.

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