Lebanon News

Day 46: Large crowds return to Beirut

Hundreds march toward Martyrs' Square in Beirut, Dec. 1, 2019. (The Daily Star/Hasan Shaaban)

BEIRUT: Beirut's central squares were filled with protesters Sunday evening in numbers not seen in the capital for days.

Thousands flocked to Riad al-Solh and Martyrs' squares waving Lebanese flags and blasting the most popular protest anthems on the 46th day of the national uprising.

Many had marched there from Mathaf in a “Sunday of Clarity” procession, carrying olive branches and calling for people to stop warning of a possible civil war.

“We experienced the war; that is why we are aware and against any wars,” one woman said.

Dozens also gathered at the Central Bank in Hamra before marching through Sanayeh to Sodeco.

A march was held from Kfar Roummane to Nabatieh’s square. People banged on plastic bottles and held Lebanese flags. Nabatieh’s march coincided with similar ones in Zahle's Saadnayel and Tripoli.

Tripoli’s protesters held signs demanding the overthrow of President Michel Aoun. By evening, the northern capital's Al-Nour Square was packed with people.

Lebanon has been without an active government since Oct. 29, following the resignation of the now caretaker Prime Minister Saad Hariri, which brought down the entire Cabinet.

Nationwide protests that started on Oct. 17 saw hundreds of thousands take to the streets against rampant corruption and the incompetence of the ruling elite.

Lebanese citizens have demanded an overhaul of the decades-old sectarian political system, the formation of a technocratic government and early parliamentary elections.

Around noon, security forces started gathering at a road leading to the presidential palace in Baabda. The deployment followed calls for protests in the area demanding that the president ensure constitutionally required consultations are held with lawmakers to name a person to form a government, the state-run National News Agency reported.

Before the protesters started gathering in Baabda, scores of supporters of President Michel Aoun came together, carrying pictures of him and waving flags.

Sunday’s protests will also address Lebanon’s deteriorating economic situation. Banks have set limits on withdrawals ranging from $300-$1,000 per week for accounts in U.S. dollars.

The unofficial exchange rate has soared above the official pegged rate of LL1,507.5 to the dollar, reaching up to LL2,350 last week.

In Sidon, protesters wearing the red jumpsuits and Dali masks – a reference to the Spanish TV series La Casa de Papel (Money Heist) – sprayed the locks of exchange shops with red paint and stuck posters on their doors that read, "Those who hold a monopoly on the dollar are corrupt."

Later in the day, protesters met outside the Central Bank in Sidon. Dozens gathered in Akkar to erect a large cutout of a closed fist bearing the word “Revolution” in bold type – a symbol of the resilience of protesters.

The original fist symbol was seen towering over Martyrs' Square in Beirut. It was burned on the morning of Nov. 22, Lebanon's Independence Day, but replaced with a new one on the same day.

Copies were set up by protesters in various squares across the country.

In Beddawi, north Lebanon, residents blocked a main road in protest against the detention of three people, including two 17-year-olds, according to their families.

Parents of the two minors said they had not been able to contact their children or been told which security force was holding them.

"I just want to know where my boy is," one of the boys' fathers said.

On Saturday, Beirut residents held a march from Verdun to Martyrs' Square, demanding the quick formation of a new government and reform of the political system.

Protests were also held outside the Central Bank's headquarters in Beirut and its regional office in Sidon. Two marches also took place in Tripoli, calling for a new government to be formed and in protest against the country's deteriorating financial situation.

Protesters from Jal al-Dib and Sidon joined fellow demonstrators in the Bisri Valley, spending Saturday night in tents pitched between the trees.

The protesters have been camped out in the valley for more than two weeks, in opposition to a controversial dam project that broke ground before the protests began on Oct. 17.

In Aley, a tent set up by the protesters was partially burned. The Progressive Socialist Party, which is dominant in Aley, denied accusations of involvement in the incident.

 

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