Lebanon News

Protesters take to streets after Aoun speech

Protesters block the Gemmayze intersection on Oct. 31, 2019. (The Daily Star/Hasan Shaaban)

BEIRUT: Protesters took to the streets and blocked roads across the country Thursday evening, almost immediately after President Michel Aoun's address to the nation.

Demonstrators shut off roads in towns nationwide – including Sidon, Bekaa and Khaldeh – with burning tires or by the sheer volume of protesters.

Aoun delivered a speech at 8:30 p.m., in which he said the new government must be made up of ministers appointed by merit, not political loyalties. Protesters were not convinced, saying it was "not enough" and calling for "further explanation."

In Beirut, protesters blocked the George Haddad highway, which connects the waterfront road to the "Ring Bridge," amid heavy police and Army presence at the main Gemmayzeh intersection.

In Tripoli, thousands of protesters started to gather at Al-Nour Square.

Earlier Thursday, security forces opened the Ring Bridge as well as the highway north of the capital after protesters again set up roadblocks overnight.

A force of over 100 riot police officers removed barriers set up by the protesters and carried the men and women sitting in the middle of the bridge out of the way. The riot police force then surrounded the protesters, preventing them from returning.

Hundreds of protesters marched from the Central Bank in Hamra to Beirut's Riad al-Solh Square Thursday on the 15th consecutive day of anti-regime demonstrations.

They had gathered outside the building at around 1 p.m., blocking the road and carrying banners reading, "Return the stolen money," and chanting, "We want to topple the bank, we want to topple the regime."

Hussein Ghassan, a professor at Lebanese American University who helped organize the march, told The Daily Star that they "will not stop protesting until our demands are met ... The resignation of [Prime Minister Saad] Hariri was only the first demand."

The protesters marched through the Burj al-Murr tunnel that connects Hamra to Achrafieh, over the "Ring Bridge," through Martyrs' Square and into Riad al-Solh, with the crowd growing in size as it advanced.

Lebanese actor Abdo Chahine said he was at the protest "to say that the whole of Lebanon is revolting, from north to south and [those in power] won't beat us."

In Akkar's Abdeh, dozens of protesters gathered, blocking the road. The Lebanese Army had fired tear gas at protesters in the town Wednesday night in an attempt to disperse the crowd. However, hundreds returned to the town's main square.

In the morning, Lebanese Army and Internal Security Forces negotiated with protesters along the northern highway at Jal al-Dib and Zouk Mosbeh before opening it and removing metal barriers set up by demonstrators.

The Lebanese Army later opened main roads in Bekaa and Tripoli, local media reported.

“We will wait until the president’s speech, then block the road again tonight,” one protester in Zouk Mosbeh said.

President Michel Aoun is expected to address the nation at 8 p.m. Thursday to mark the third anniversary of his term in office.

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 on the 14th day of protests.

Nationwide protests and roadblocks have swept the country since Oct. 17, as security forces have continuously attempted to reopen blocked roads.

Prime Minister Saad Hariri resigned Tuesday and now holds the office in a caretaking capacity, but protesters did not leave the streets, saying they wanted far more than the government’s resignation.

They are also demanding the end of the sectarian political system, early parliamentary elections, the formation of a technocratic government and the return of stolen public funds, among other basic demands such as electricity, water and jobs.

 

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