Lebanon News

Salam vows police 'accountability' after protest violence

Prime Minister Tammam Salam speaks during a press conference in Beirut on Sunday, August 23, 2015. (The Daily Star/ Mohammad Azakir)

BEIRUT: Those responsible for the use of force against peaceful protesters will be held accountable, Prime Minister Tammam Salam said Sunday, one day after police clashed with demonstrators in Beirut's Downtown.

"At this difficult stage that the country and people are passing through, we need to assume our responsibilities," Salam said during a press conference, emphasizing that "peaceful protests are a constitutional right and we should protect [that right] and become part of it."

He underlined that "the incident at Riad al-Solh [Square Saturday] will not pass without holding those responsible at all levels accountable."

"I will not cover up for anyone."

The prime minister also called on civil society organizations and activists to form a delegation to meet with him to discuss the crises gripping the country.

"I extend my hand to civil society groups and I am ready to debate and share all problems with you," Salam told reporters. "I am from the people and with them. I never ran from [my] positions and I have been always keen to represent the people."

"I am ready to hear your demands ... I have nothing to hide."

However, Salam's call fell on deaf ears as protesters at Riad al-Solh expressed anger after the premier's speech, demanding that he resign to prove he is from the people.

A demonstration organized by the YouReek campaign, also known as YouStink, escalated Saturday into clashes between police and protesters, with security forces using rubber bullets, water cannons and tear gas to disperse thousands who joined the rally in Downtown Beirut.

At least 75 demonstrators and 35 officers were wounded.

Salam said that he had previously warned political rivals about the consequences of the current political vacuum, which would only lead to the degradation of the state.

"The people's reaction, who demanded me to be patient, prevented me from taking a decision that I was willing to," Salam said, implicitly referring to his previous threats to resign.

He also lashed out at his political rivals, saying that "there's political garbage in this country."

Declaring himself as unbiased and only affiliated to Lebanon, Salam said "I refuse to be part of [the state's] collapse."

"I will continue to share patience with the people, but my patience has limits ... and if your patience runs out then I will take the right decision," the PM said.

Protesters, who originally took to the streets to call for sustainable solutions to the garbage crisis, began demanding the resignation of Interior Minister Nouhad Machnouk, the Cabinet and immediate parliamentary elections after Saturday's clashes with security forces.

Salam also reiterated that the failure to elect a new head of state was contributing to the state's collapse.

"There are no magical solutions" to the crises, the premier said.

Lebanon has been without a head of state since the tenure of President Michel Sleiman ended in May 2014.

He noted that politicians "are exploiting all incidents ... they exchange blame on everything."

"We need a radical solution."

Salam also announced that a Cabinet session would be held Thursday to discuss vital concerns for the country.

He warned that "if Thursday's Cabinet session wasn't productive, then the government is useless."

"I have been keen not to add to the political stalemate in the country [since my appointment] and I have abided by consensus and will continue to hold onto it."

However, Salam argued that consensus should not be used a tactic to paralyze the state.

 

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