Lebanon News

Students at sit-in look for direction after tents trampled

Prime Minister Najib Mikati heads a Cabinet session at the Grand Serail in Beirut, Lebanon, Wednesday, March 21, 2012. (The Daily Star/Mohammad Azakir)

BEIRUT: When hundreds of angry young people attempted to storm the Grand Serail in downtown Beirut, a sit-in at the Riad al-Solh roundabout was trampled underfoot in the chaos.

The protest, meant to be a unified response to the killing of intelligence chief Wissam al-Hasan, was thrown into disarray. Student groups had organized a tent-camp sit-in to demand the resignation of Prime Minister Najib Mikati, the expulsion of the Syrian ambassador and generally voice their outrage at feeling abused on the political stage.

But after tear gas canisters were shot, rocks and sticks thrown, and the sit-in trod underfoot, the young protesters are trying to figure out what to do with little political direction.

“What now?” one demonstrator wondered aloud.

On one side of the streets young men in the sit-in supporting the Future Movement and hailing from the north of the country lay in the road on mattresses, refusing to be moved.

They hinted at more drastic protests similar to the Grand Serail attack and said major steps like those that have been employed by their political opponents need to occur to bring change. They said they would stay in the road blocking traffic until the government collapsed and their demands were met.

Politicians tried to convince protesters to change their location, but they would not be swayed.

“Not one of us will leave,” said one of the young men who declined to be identified. “We are with God,” he said when asked his political affiliation.

On the other side of the street a more moderate voice prevailed. Kataeb and Lebanese Forces students fixed their damaged tents but said they wouldn’t block the road. They would wait until their voices were recognized and justice was done.

“People like me they are not going to leave from here until there is a change,” said Anthony Hobeiche, a 20-year-old LF supporter from the American University of Beirut. “A huge change politically in Lebanon.”

The sit-in was originally intended to be a lasting response to the killing. Student groups from universities and parties across the country had pledged to work in shifts to keep the tent camp open indefinitely at a central roundabout in the city.

Yet, with only a few dozen students remaining in the square by nightfall, it’s uncertain if there are the resources or coordination to make the protest happen. But those in the square are convinced they will remain until their demands are met.

“We are staying here until we solve all the problems that we have,” Challita said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on October 22, 2012, on page 3.




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