Lebanon News

Anger, pressure return to streets across Lebanon

Anti-government protesters block roads with burning tires in Beirut. (The Daily Star/Hasan Shaaban)

BEIRUT: The streets and squares of Lebanon erupted into life Tuesday as popular protests returned after a brief absence with renewed energy and pressure. Thousands of protesters across the country marched through the streets, erected tents in public spaces and blocked roads with burning tires, on what many called the “Tuesday of Anger.” The day’s most dramatic scenes took place outside the headquarters of the Central Bank in Beirut, where protesters and riot police clashed in an extended stand-off.

Caretaker Education Minister Akram Chehayeb left the decision on Wednesday classes up to schools following the outbreak of violence.

Several protesters attempted to storm the Banque du Liban building, breaking through the outer fence and calling for “the fall of the rule of the bank” as well as the resignation of the Central Bank’s Gov. Riad Salameh.

Frustration with banks has increased in recent months as depositors are faced with ever-tighter cash withdrawal limits and various forms of capital controls. (No law has been passed by Parliament to legalize capital controls)

Riot police advanced on the protesters outside the bank in tight formation, as rocks, fireworks and plastic water bottles rained down on them. before launching tear gas.

More than 20 protesters and police officers were injured in the clashes, Georges Kettaneh, the head of the Lebanese Red Cross said.

Protesters scattered, spreading between Hamra’s main streets and the Verdun and Clemenceau areas, continuing to push back and forth with police. Protesters kicked gas canisters back at the line of riot shields.

Dramatic footage showed the streets of Hamra shrouded in tear gas as protesters smashed the glass fronts of banks and tore down street signs. Journalists from Al-Jadeed, MTV and Al-Hurra were assaulted by unknown assailants. For nearly three months, hundreds of thousands of Lebanese have been participating in an unprecedented mass uprising against the political ruling class, whom they hold responsible for the rapidly deteriorating economic and living conditions.

Protests had lulled over the holiday period, dampened by cold and wet weather. But the 90th day of the mass uprising saw a resurge on the streets, with protesters turning out in the highest numbers for weeks and burning tires bringing traffic to a standstill.

Prime Minister-designate Hassan Diab was a major target of protesters’ ire. He has been called upon by protesters to step down if he fails to form a “salvation government” made up of independent technocrats in the next 48 hours.

Hundreds marched over Beirut’s “Ring Bridge” to Diab’s home in Tallet al-Khayyat to reject the formation of a government that contains figures from the existing political elite. “Get out, out, out! You’re not independent,” the crowd chanted from the street.

Diab was tasked with forming a government on Dec. 19, following the resignation of Saad Hariri as prime minister nearly two months earlier. Diab has so far failed to find a balance between satisfying the political establishment and nominating ministers that would be accepted by protesters.

“He doesn’t deserve to form a government,” one protester told local TV channel Al-Jadeed.

“We didn’t leave [the streets]. Perhaps the rain set us back a bit, but our revolution fuels itself,” Sahar Gharios, 51, told The Daily Star from the “Ring Bridge.”

“We have rights within our state ... our state sold out its people. They’ve forced us to steal back our freedom and we’ll remain here, against a government of sectarian quotas, until we get all of our rights.”

Qusai Zoabi, 21, told The Daily Star: “We’re reaffirming that we will remove the entire ruling class and that our steps will escalate until then.”

Tires and dumpsters burned on the bridge for hours as protesters stood in the road, blocking traffic in both directions. Hundreds remained into the evening, setting up tents and smoking shisha pipes on the asphalt.

In Sidon, groups of protesters blocked roads in from the early hours of the morning. Others erected tents in the middle of the Eliya intersection, which led to scuffles with the Lebanese Army. Five people were injured at the scene and security forces detained one man.

Dozens of students in Sidon skipped classes, further energizing the movement and helping protesters to close public institutions such as Electricite du Liban and the South Lebanon Water Authority.

Protests also returned to the country’s second-largest city, Tripoli, which was one of the most consistent locations for demonstrations in the first two months of the uprising.

Waving Lebanese flags and carrying flowers, dozens marched through the city’s main streets chanting, “They nominated Hassan Diab but we will bring him down,” in reference to the parties that backed Diab as prime minister.

Throughout the day, protesters gathered in larger numbers on the main Beirut-North Lebanon highway, leading traffic to a standstill in Jbeil, Jal al-Dib and Zouk Mosbeh. In Jounieh, students on strike from school and university also blocked the main highway.

In Furn al-Shubbak, protesters threw tires from a bridge for those waiting below set alight.

While the number and size of demonstrations has decreased over the past three months, they have become both more spontaneous and targeted.

Sit-ins, protests against state and financial institutions, and road closures have become favored tactics. - Additional reporting by Mohammed Zaatari

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on January 15, 2020, on page 1.




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