BEIRUT

Lebanon News

Tripoli community groups call for citizens’ dialogue

Press Federation President Mohammad Baalbaki hosts representatives of Tripoli civil associations in Beirut. (The Daily Star / Mohammad Azakir)

BEIRUT: Tripoli community groups condemned Wednesday the recent spate of fighting in the northern city and called for a politics-free “citizens’ dialogue” to prevent further instability.

Leaders from a coalition of around 50 NGOs and heads of associations held a news conference in Beirut and called for a wide range of steps to be taken to solve the problem, including job development, poverty reduction and dialogue.

“A lot of people assume the problem is between Sunnis and Alawites, but the problems are political,” said Chadi Nachabe, the president of the NGO Utopia.

“The problem is renewed because of poverty, and because there isn’t a real dialogue between people in Bab al-Tabbaneh and Jabal Mohsen,” he said, referring to clashes between Sunni and Alawite neighborhoods that have shaken Tripoli for over a month, killing dozens and wounding over a hundred people. The fighting has been blamed on increasing tensions over the Syrian conflict, but activists point to tensions dating back a few decades.

Many residents have been at a loss as to the proper response to the recent breakdown in stability. While online condemnation of the violence has been abundant, meaningful public action has been limited.

Some Tripoli residents are trying to change that with a proactive community response against the violence. Tripoli NGOs have continually called for a reduction of tensions and confiscation of weapons. Last month, runners turned up for the Tripoli marathon despite its postponement because of the clashes.

The NGO leaders said they were intent on bringing together community and business representatives to spur a new type of community dialogue to defuse tensions.

“We refuse all the politics and all the fighting,” said Sophie Zaza, a member of the Lebanese-Chinese Business Council. “We want to let the people work, and forget the fighting between the two groups.”

Discussion leader Anwar Khanji said that what was needed next was a dialogue process that avoided traditional leaders and went straight to ordinary citizens. The group of organizations issued a broad call for a “civil dialogue” to let groups hash out their problems.

Khanji added that he hoped to start dialogue by next week, with the participation of local residents, particularly near the areas that have been caught up in the fighting.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on June 21, 2012, on page 3.

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