SIDON, Lebanon: Residents of Sidon’s al-Barrad quarter sat on plastic chairs in the middle of one of their neighborhood's streets Wednesday to protest electricity cuts, while other protesters burned tires and blocked roads across the southern region.
In much of Lebanon, people have expressed their frustration by blocking roads with burning tires. But in this corner of Sidon, residents feel their approach is more appropriate.
“We thought of the chairs because we wanted to protest in a civilized manner,” said one protester. “Burning tires will only cause dangerous air pollution that will harm us,” he added.
Motorists were surprised by the measure. “I thought they were receiving condolences,” commented Mustafa al-Assi, who stopped his car and joined the protest to voice his anger at the electricity rationing.
Blackouts have lasted over 20 hours a day across the country since Monday following a malfunction at the Deir Ammar power plant. Electricite du Liban said Tuesday it resolved the problem, which had caused a shock that de-linked most power production facilities from the national electricity grid.
EDL said power supply would start improving by the end of the week as maintenance work is completed but conceded that it would still be unable to provide 24-hour electricity.
Separately, protesters blocked the Tyre-Naqoura portion of the main highway Wednesday.
The Lebanese Army managed to reopen the highway several hours after angry residents prevented military personnel from approaching the road. Protesters also prevented Civil Defense personnel from extinguishing the flames of the burning tires.
As a result of the hours-long protest, U.N. Interim Force in Lebanon halted its patrols and employees at the peacekeeping force's headquarters in Naqoura were unable to reach their offices. The road leading to Iqlim al-Kharroub was also blocked.
Protesters chanted slogans against Energy Minister Gebran Bassil, Prime Minister Najib Mikati and southern parliamentarians, demanding their resignation. They called on the government to restore power swiftly or they would adopt escalatory measures.
Smaller protests took place in Shatila and Tayouneh, south of Beirut, and in the Bekaa, where residents blocked the Jub Jennin road.
Hezbollah MP Mohammad Raad weighed in on the protests Wednesday, with his party's press office quoting him as defending Gebran Bassil's handling of the electricity crisis and blaming past governments for the situation.
Raad also said that while he understood people's frustrations over power cuts, their manner of protesting sometimes exacerbated matters.
"People's protests over the increasing power cuts are understandable and justified but blocking roads and burning tires will not be of use in resolving the issue; they will complicate the situation for the people themselves," Raad said.
Prior to Monday’s malfunction, residents had been protesting against increasingly meager power rationing particularly in south Lebanon with some asking Energy Minister Gebran Bassil to resign.
Electricity supply has been deteriorating across the country due to maintenance work conducted on major power plants, suspension of power imports from Egypt and Syria, and an ongoing strike by Electricite du Liban’s contract workers.
In a statement, EDL said maintenance work on a turbine in the Deir Ammar power plant will be finalized July 3 so long as security concerns in nearby Tripoli do not force employees to suspend work.