BAALBEK, Lebanon: Merchants and shop owners in the city of Baalbek held a protest Tuesday against increasing lawlessness in the area and called on security forces to increase measures.
Shops in the commercial center of the city were closed from 9 a.m. until 12 p.m. as part of the protest. Baalbek Mayor Hashem Othman, civil society organizations, residents, municipality officials and merchants participated in the sit-in in front of the government serail in Baalbek.
Merchants and shop owners have been threatened repeatedly in the past few months and forced to pay money to armed gangs in exchange for their safety and that of their businesses.
Othman called on security forces to “fulfill its role so that chaos will not prevail anymore,” and warned citizens against acquiring weapons to protect themselves.
The mayor pleaded with state officials “to put an end to what is happening in the city,” and stressed that, “the state’s role to protect its citizens has no replacement.”
Baalbek Mukhtar Ahmad Blouq said the security forces were responsible for the deteriorating security situation in the city, describing its performance as “sluggish.”
Head of the Baalbek shop-owner’s union Amer al-Hajhasan urged Army commander Gen. Jean Kahwagi to intervene, while the head of the merchant’s union, Nasri Othman, called for “reforming the security system so that it can carry out its job properly.”
Lebanese Army troops detained two people Monday for possessing weapons in its most recent anti-smuggling operation.
The security situation in areas near Baalbek and Hermel has been precarious since the start of the 2-year-old uprising in Syria. Rockets launched by Syrian rebels targeting villages inside Lebanon recently have significantly further raised tensions in the area.
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on April 24, 2013, on page 4.