BEIRUT: Supporters of Lebanese prisoner George Abdallah will discuss their demands with Interior Minister Marwan Charbel during a meeting Monday afternoon, after a protest Sunday topped a week of demonstrations.
Organizers of the protests, who spoke on condition of anonymity told The Daily Star that Charbel had requested to see them. They added that they were still waiting for an appointment with Prime Minister Najib Mikati to discuss the establishment of a ministerial committee to follow up on Abdallah’s case.
“The request for a meeting [with Mikati] was made two months ago, but we have not heard from the prime minister yet,” one of the organizers said.
Demonstrators gathered in front of the French Embassy Sunday – temporarily blocking Damascus Street – in an attempt to increase pressure on France to release Abdallah.
Almost a week after the start of a nationwide movement to demand the immediate release of the Lebanese prisoner, who was granted parole by a French court earlier this month, protesters returned to the area and attempted to break the police buffer zone created to protect the embassy.
Angry protesters, many of whom were friends and family members of Abdallah, vowed to escalate the movement in the next few days ahead of the French court’s ruling on Jan. 28.
Some activists pelted the embassy with eggs, paint, oranges and stones, leading to a brief clash with the Internal Security Forces. Raising banners urging France to release Abdallah, the crowds chanted calls for government action to place diplomatic pressure on French authorities.
Security sources told The Daily Star that the interior minister has ordered the ISF to monitor activities near the French Embassy to ensure demonstrations remain peaceful and don’t spiral out of control.
Speaking to reporters in front of the French embassy, a protester said the campaign would continue until Abdallah was released. “The security forces are trying to pressure us to get out of here, but we won’t leave.”
During Sunday’s demonstration, organizers read out a statement sent by Abdallah from France, allegedly calling on the Lebanese to continue their actions and not back down.
Hezbollah politburo member Mahmoud Qomati was among the protesters and said his party supports the call for Abdallah’s freedom.
“We support the case until the end and we support the ongoing peaceful protests to press for Abdallah’s release,” Qomati added.
He said the protest movement highlights the reality of U.S. pressure exerted on France to keep Abdallah behind bars, in additing to casting doubt on the sovereigntyof the West’s justice system.
“Shame on the French state and its renowned history of subjection to the decisions of the U.S.,” said Qomati. “How can they claim the independence of the judiciary in the West while they hinder the release of Abdallah?”
The Hezbollah official added that the sit-ins also served to embarrass the French administration and compel it to take a stance against the wishes of the United States.
Activists also held a protest in Tyre over the weekend. During the gathering, protesters clashed with the Army after they attempted to paint on the walls of the headquarters of a French contingent participating in UNIFIL.
Speaking at the demonstration, one protester called on the French peacekeepers to support Abdallah’s case and urge the French government to expedite the prisoner’s release.
Last week, Abdallah supporters staged an open sit-in facing the French Embassy and set up a tent to draw attention to the issue. At least five other protests have taken place throughout the country since then. Activists have urged the government to establish a ministerial committee to follow up with French authorities to coordinate and speed up Abdallah’s release.
The prisoner’s return to Lebanon was disrupted after the French Interior Ministry refused to sign a deportation order requested by the court earlier this month. Captured in 1984 in a covert operation, Abdallah was sentenced to life in prison in 1987 for the murders of an American officer and an Israeli diplomat in Paris five years earlier.