BEIRUT/SIDON: Protesters targeted state institutions and banks Thursday, calling for an end to corruption and sectarian political maneuvering. The 78th day of protests began in the country’s ports.
Dozens of Lebanese gathered in front of Beirut’s port to protest against illegal smuggling and the alleged corruption of customs, the state-run National News Agency reported.
Activists say Beirut Port, Lebanon’s key trade hub, which is estimated to earn the state over $1 billion in revenue each year, is a prominent example of corruption in state institutions.
A similar protest took place in front of Tripoli’s port where dozens of protesters chanted “Stop the corruption; cleanse the port from those who are corrupt.”
The protesters set up a tent at the port’s entrance and attempted to prevent employees from entering.
Protesters in Tripoli also vandalized and broke the locks of public buildings in the city, including the Qadisha Electricity Company and the Ogero building.
In Sidon, several protesters were injured during scuffles with security forces as they held a sit-in at the local branch of Credit Libanais bank.
A few dozen people headed to the bank in the morning to protest low withdrawal limits and corruption in the banking sector.
They clashed with security personnel inside the bank, leading to several injuries. One person was taken to hospital for treatment.
At a bank in south Lebanon’s Nabatieh, customers clashed with employees after they were reportedly denied access to their deposits.
Protesters chanted “down with the rule of the bank” outside the branch after an employee closed the door.
Such incidents have become a regular occurrence since banks enforced informal capital controls in late 2019, limiting the amount customers can withdraw from their accounts on a daily and weekly basis.
The Federation of Banking Employees threatened to go on strike in a statement issued Thursday, citing verbal abuse and attacks on staff.
Banks closed their doors for more than a week in November due to a similar strike. They reopened after then-Interior Minister Raya El Hassan said bank staff would be supported by members of the Internal Security Forces.
At around 4 p.m. hundreds gathered outside Nijmeh Square, the seat of the Lebanese Parliament. The demonstration was called for under the title “the people reject the government of quotas,” in apparent reference to the requirement that every religious sect is fairly represented in Cabinet. Protesters have been calling for a government made up of experts who do not have affiliations to the political establishment.
According to local TV channel LBCI, protesters outside Parliament were split into two: those supporting Hasan Diab as prime minister-designate, and those against him.
By 8 p.m., only a handful of protesters remained. In December, the streets in front of Nijmeh Square saw some of the uprising’s most violent clashes between protesters and security forces.
Hundreds of thousands of Lebanese have taken to the streets since Oct. 17 in mass protests against corruption, a sectarian ruling class and economic mismanagement.
Thousands saw in 2020 at “New Year’s Revolution” celebrations in the country’s main protest squares.
In Beirut, a large stage built by volunteers hosted DJs, rappers and bands until the early hours of Wednesday morning.
People filled Downtown Beirut, stretching from Riad al-Solh Square to Martyrs’ Square, waving Lebanese flags, setting off fireworks and chanting, “Revolution, revolution.”