Lebanon News

Ramlet al-Baida at the center of renewed controversy

Policemen try to separate We Want Accountability activists from workers with batons at the site in Ramlet al-Baida in Beirut. (The Daily Star/Hasan Shaaban)

BEIRUT: Protesters and police clashed Tuesday night after a demonstration against the construction of a resort on Ramlet al-Baida, despite a pledge by Beirut’s governor that the public beach would remain open.

Blows were exchanged between protesters and police wielding sticks and batons, leading to several arrests.

Dozens of activists marched along the promenade down to the construction site, chanting and holding signs against the ongoing project.

The demonstrators renewed calls for the end to the privatization of the coastline, especially in Ramlet al-Baida, as it is widely seen as the capital’s last public beach.

Prominent “We Want Accountability” activist Neemat Badreddine led the protests chanting, “Ramlet al-Baida is not for sale,” as demonstrators repeated after her.

Earlier Tuesday, Beirut Governor Ziad Chebib made assurances that the Ramlet al-Baida beach would remain open to the public, days after construction resumed on the coastline sparking protests.

Chebib said it was important for the public to know the details of what the activists are protesting about.

The Municipality of Beirut addressed the matter in a statement released Tuesday. “The location where digging and building has begun ... is located outside the premises of the public beach and more than 300 meters south of it.”

The municipality statement added that the land in question has been privatized since 1932. “Land surveys, ownership deed documents and real estate registry records prove this, while the ongoing construction is based on building permits and abiding by construction laws,” the statement said.

The statement then attested that aerial photographs taken by the Lebanese Army’s Geographical Affairs Department show the area being developed is not part of the public land, based on the last survey completed in 1962.

But under Lebanese law, any piece of land touched by waves from the sea is considered public property.

Chebib reassured the public that the beach would remain open to all and untouched.

“The governor of the city of Beirut and the city’s municipal council affirm that they will not allow the encroachment on [Ramlet al-Baida] or prevent the public from using it,” the statement added.

Nahnoo, a civil society group opposed to the project, released a statement Tuesday evening responding to the municipality.

“The construction that is ongoing on our public coastline today is actually happening on a part of what is generally referred to as the ‘Public Beach,’” the statement said.

Nahnoo added that the construction being undertaken by the “Ashour Group” was approved by the municipality at the expense of the residents. “In other countries public property is deemed sacred ... politics protects the areas. We call on the Beirut Municipality to halt the work ... immediately [and] investigate the deeds completely,” it said.

“The land being built on is not public and there are records to show this ... we cannot prevent someone from building on his or her private land,” Chebib told The Daily Star.

Beirut Mayor Jamal Itani was unavailable for comment despite multiple attempts to contact him.

Last June, a bulldozer destroyed a kiosk that sold drinks and snacks on the southern edge of the beach as well as a wooden staircase that led to the coast from the promenade. The incident was caught on film and caused a widespread uproar on social media. Many activists warned the move was a prelude to blocking access to the beach by making it part of a private resort.

“We Want Accountability” claimed that a protester was beaten by a man Monday after demonstrating against the construction at the site. The activist, Whard, was allegedly punched in the face by a man in civilian attire and transferred to AUBMC for treatment.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on November 16, 2016, on page 3.

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