BEIRUT: A demonstration called for by the Free Patriotic Movement to confront a sit-in by contract workers at Electricite Du Liban was postponed after Energy Minister Gebran Bassil asked his party’s supporters for a few extra days to give negotiations a chance of success.
Instead of gathering at EDL headquarters, dozens of FPM supporters headed to the Energy Ministry in Corniche al-Nahr and warned against a continuation of the sit-in by the contract workers, which they described as an “occupation of a state institution.”
A few Lebanese Forces supporters participated in the gathering, but the LF later issued a statement in which it denied any direct involvement. Despite the LF denial, many demonstrators in front of the ministry praised the recent coming together of both parties and called for more cooperation.
The Daily Star could not independently verify the actual affiliation of all participants at the demonstration, but the flags of archrivals the LF and the FPM were raised side-by-side, in what has been a rare occurrence since 2006.
Toward the end of the protest, residents of Ashrafieh, enraged by near round-the-clock power cuts and mostly FPM supporters, physically attacked reporters from MTV television, as well as the FPM’s OTV.
Other Ashrafieh residents blocked roads leading to Gemmayzeh and Sassine Square with burning tires in protest against a total blackout that has entered its fifth day in some parts of Beirut.
EDL contract workers, who were granted full-time employment at the state-run company by Parliament last month, are refusing to call off their protest until their employment bill is approved by the Parliament’s secretariat and becomes law.
The FPM and Christian parties of the March 14 coalition have blocked the formal approval of the bill, arguing that it was passed inappropriately.
The sit-in staged by at least 2,000 contract workers at EDL has led to a deterioration in the country’s already dire public services.
In a statement Thursday, EDL said it was unable to carry out necessary maintenance work on several major cable lines across the country due to the ongoing sit-in.
EDL also said that contract workers who are holding the sit-in are preventing workers from carrying equipment in and out of the company, crippling major operations and bill collection.
EDL said the Beirut neighborhoods of Ashrafieh and Tallet al-Khayyat, as well as the nearby towns of Sadd al-Boushrieh and Khaldeh, are experiencing blackouts brought on by cable problems that EDL has been unable to fix.
Elie Mayne, a resident of Ashrafieh and an FPM supporter, said the protest in front of EDL in Mar Mikhael was postponed at the request of Bassil, but added that demonstrators will head there anyway if contract workers do not end their sit-in over the weekend.
“This is the fifth day that we haven’t had power at our homes and this problem is being caused by the contract workers who are occupying the EDL building by force,” said Mayne, speaking on behalf of the demonstrators.
Mayne said that contract workers, supported by many state officials, have taken control of the EDL building by using force.
“If they continue with their sit-in, our next action will be much bigger, and residents of Ashrafieh, Gemmayze and Mar Mikhael will not remain silent.”
“We will clean this building of the Shabbiha [thugs],” Mayne added.
Rene Abdel-Nour, a mukhtar in Rmeil, said that “the situation has become unbearable; there are no generators and no major backup power service in Ashrafieh.”
“Many elderly people are coming to my office asking for my help to get the power back ... they are exhausted and in need of help,” Abdel-Nour added.
The city of Beirut is officially experiencing three hours of cuts a day, although backup generators are not common in many parts of the capital.
For his part, Bassil criticized the continuing sit-in at EDL and said the contract workers were not holding a peaceful protest, arguing that the protesters obstructing EDL’s work should be punished according to the law.
“According to Article 342 [of Criminal Procedures of the Penal Code], every protest carried out by more than 20 people that aims to stop public service of water and electricity is punished by prison,” Bassil said in a news conference Thursday.
Bassil further called the protest an “organized plan to spread chaos inside state institutions.”