Lebanon News

Security forces struggle to keep roads open

Army soldiers open a road at Jal el-Dib. (The Daily Star/Mohamad Azakir)

BEIRUT/SIDON: Roads across Lebanon were blocked by protesters Wednesday night after they had been cleared by security forces earlier in the day in an attempt to edge the country back to normal life after 13 days of protests.

From Chtoura and Saadnayel in the Bekaa Valley to Sidon in south Lebanon, Abdeh, Halba and Tripoli in the north and in Beirut at the “Ring Bridge,” vital roads were blocked as The Daily Star went to print.

In Abdeh, security forces had fired tear gas to clear protesters but hundreds returned to the town’s main square.

In Chtoura, burning tires blocked the main international highway.

Most of the country’s roads had been reopened by Wednesday afternoon, and fewer protesters had taken to the streets than in the days before. Still, thousands gathered in Tripoli’s Al-Nour Square Wednesday evening, chanting, “All of them means all of them.”

Supporters of caretaker Prime Minister Saad Hariri were out in Beirut. A large convoy of Future Movement supporters on motorcycles toured the capital, waving party flags.

Meanwhile in Akkar’s Qobeiyat, Future supporters blocked a main road while holding Hariri signs.

In Downtown Beirut, hundreds of people strolled around in the area, which remained closed off to cars.

“After 14 days on the streets, I’d be lying if I said we weren’t tired,” 21-year-old Lara told The Daily Star in Riad al-Solh Square. “But [the politicians] shouldn’t rest too easy. Anything suspicious will bring the people back to the streets.”

Earlier in the day, the Army opened the highway north of Beirut, after it had been blocked in several locations over the previous few days. The development came just an hour after the Army had called on protesters to clear the roads. Army Intelligence stopped local TV channels LBCI and Al Jadeed from filming as the protesters were removed from the highway.

Meanwhile, a deployment from the Internal Security Forces negotiated with protesters to open the “Ring Bridge,” which connects east and west Beirut and had been occupied for around three days.

Protesters agreed to open the road and voluntarily removed tents they had set up there, though some demonstrators disagreed and continued to block the overpass before they were convinced to get off the road.

In an earlier statement, the Army stressed the people’s right to “peaceful protests and freedom of expression ... in public squares only.”

“After the dangerous exacerbation of rows between people due to roadblocks across Lebanese areas and the latest political developments, the Army command calls on all protesters to open remaining blocked roads,” the statement said.

Amal Movement and Hezbollah supporters Tuesday beat protesters and destroyed tents in Downtown Beirut, in what appeared to be a coordinated attack. Riot police sent to the area were outnumbered by the mob and failed to stop its members tearing down and burning tents and other temporary structures. Riot police and the Army then managed to push the attackers out of Riad al-Solh Square using tear gas.

Protesters blocking the southern coastal highway at Jiyyeh agreed to remove large sand berms they had set up in the middle of the road Wednesday night, following a request from the local mukhtar after negotiations with security forces failed.

In Sidon, demonstrators eventually agreed with security forces to clear the main Elia intersection, which they had occupied for 13 days, and shifted to a nearby garden in the afternoon.

However, protesters retook the intersection Wednesday night.

The Army intervened but had been unable to clear them from the square by the time The Daily Star went to print.

“With all the attempts of the authorities and their tools to force us out of the streets, we have managed to achieve our first victory by forcing the government to resign,” protester Jamal Issa said.

“But since our demands have not been met completely, we will continue with our strike.”

The intersection had opened earlier in the day after extensive efforts led by the head of Army Intelligence in Sidon, Saeed Mashmoushi.

Negotiations took place in the morning as protestors sat on the ground and chanted, “All of them means all of them,” until an agreement was reached to move the protest to the park beside the intersection. The first cars began passing through the intersection at around 12:45 p.m.

In Sidon, activist Mervat Mizher agreed that the government’s resignation was a major step.

“The politicians have a new test now, which is to form a technocrat government,” she said. “Today we opened the road, but we will not leave the streets.”

“We have been in the streets and squares, and now we are back to square one,” said Mostafa Abu Daher, a taxi driver who had been active in the Sidon protests.

“The government has resigned and the ones we were chanting to overthrow have stayed, and now Hariri is going to be appointed again. What a comedy.”

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on October 31, 2019, on page 2.

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