Lebanon News

New concrete barriers installed at Serail

Anti-government protesters chant slogans in Nabatieh, Jan. 26, 2020. (The Daily Star/Mohammed Zaatari)

BEIRUT/NABATIEH: A set of concrete barriers was erected by security forces in Riad al-Solh in front of the Grand Serail Sunday, amid “No confidence” protests organized across the country over the weekend. The barriers create a large wall, which aims to prevent protesters from reaching the Serail. They were erected in anticipation of further mass demonstrations in the area.

The move follows clashes Saturday evening between protesters and riot police.

Saturday night’s escalation came after protesters attempted to tear down metal barriers and remove barbed wire installed directly in front of the Grand Serail. Security forces responded by firing tear gas and water cannons on demonstrators gathering in the area.

Video footage showed water cannon striking a man who was holding a small child in Riad al-Solh. Ranks of riot police later charged those present and pushed them out of Riad al-Solh and Martyrs’ Square.

Riad al-Solh was calm and relatively empty during the day Sunday, save for a few tents that have been there since Oct. 17, when mass protests began calling for the overhaul of the entire political system.

“I think we’ll be seeing more protests here in Riad al-Solh now that Lebanon has a government,” predicted Moustafa Shaat, head of the Jinsiyati Karamati - “My nationality is my dignity” - initiative. Shaat has a tent set up in Riad al-Solh.

In the last week, the protests have witnessed an escalation in violence and more recently a shift in location from Parliament to the Grand Serail, symbolizing the change in protester goals after the government was formed.

Shaat pointed out that the barriers make it more dangerous for large crowds to gather in Riad al-Solh because the exits are much narrower and potential demonstrators are confined into a smaller space.

He said he was shocked by the behavior of the security forces.

“I’d never seen them chase people before [from Riad al-Solh] and then beat them. They didn’t do this before, they just dispersed the crowds. Now they’re chasing them to Saifi,” Shaat said.

He added that during the Saturday night’s clashes he was “worried about the tear gas canisters lighting our nylon tents on fire, so we were ready here with extinguishers.”

Meanwhile, artists began using the concrete blocks as a canvas.

Hayat Nazer, 32, who created the phoenix statue in Martyrs’ Square, a symbol of Lebanon rising from the ashes, said that by painting on the blocks she was reclaiming the people’s property.

“They put [the concrete barriers] here to stop us from entering our own property, but this space is for the people,” Nazer said.

She hopes to create a tribute to the protesters who lost their eyes during clashes with security forces and to show that this protest is no longer peaceful.

Meanwhile in front of Nabatieh’s Serail, protesters began a march under the slogan “No confidence,” referring to the people’s lack of trust in the newly formed government which was inaugurated Wednesday. They also marched to Nabatieh’s Central Bank building where they protested the bank’s financial policies.

Nabatieh’s marches aimed to emphasize the deteriorating economic situation, the dollar crisis and the fuel crisis.

Also in the southern city of Sidon, dozens of protesters marched in the streets under the slogan “No confidence.”

The country’s diaspora also joined in the demonstrations in solidarity with the uprising under the slogan “With you until the end.” Protests were organized in 26 cities around the world. Demonstrations took place Sunday in London, Marseille, Boston, Los Angeles, Sao Paulo, Dubai, Montreal, Amsterdam, Barcelona and Vienna.

Sunday marked the 102nd day of Lebanon’s nationwide uprising, with many turning up to the streets to reject the new government, which is perceived as political rather than technocratic. A technocratic Cabinet is a main demand of the protesters. Prime Minister Hassan Diab formed the much-awaited government last week, which protesters welcomed by blocking roads and filling the streets in Downtown Beirut.

Sunday’s protests precede a parliamentary session to discuss the 2020 draft budget, set to take place Monday and Tuesday.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on January 27, 2020, on page 2.

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