Lebanon News

Demonstrators turn pressure on government formation

Protesters clash with the Lebanese army in Sidon, Nov. 1, 2019. (The Daily Star/Stringer )

SIDON, Lebanon: Five protesters were injured in Sidon Friday as the Lebanese Army tried to clear a main road, while others blocked a highway near the presidential palace in Baabda to pressure for a swift Cabinet formation. On the road leading to Baabda Palace, protesters stood with signs asking for the president to hold binding parliamentary consultations immediately for a prime minister to be designated.

Caretaker Prime Minister Saad Hariri resigned Tuesday, but President Michel Aoun has not yet set a date for the consultations.

After two weeks of nationwide protests demanding the downfall of the political class and swift reforms, including an end to the sectarian system, Lebanon witnessed smaller than usual protests in several locations, including in Baalbeck, Barr Elias and Al-Marj in the Bekaa.

Tripoli was once again the main exception; with well over a thousand people pouring into its main Al-Nour Square by the evening.

In Beirut, police arrested four protesters who occupied the entrance of the Association of Banks in Lebanon, and arrested another protester outside moments later.

Three men and one woman locked themselves inside the gate of the ABL’s headquarters near Gemmayzeh with a chain they had brought. They then “threw away the key.” The protesters demanded that loans be allowed to be paid in Lebanese pounds instead of dollars and called for an end to corruption resulting from the state and banks, and the return of “looted public funds.”

“It is not allowed anymore for the [Lebanese] pound to be a hostage to the dollar,” one of the protesters inside the ABL said.

An Internal Security Forces unit of around 30 policemen later removed the protesters from inside the building using a backdoor, blocking media access. The four protesters were arrested and later released after a group of people staged a protest outside the Helou Barracks where they were being held.

A fifth protester who came close to the police vehicle was violently beaten, a video clip of the incident showed. The man was bloodied by the group of policemen before being taken to the Helou Barracks and the transferred to a military hospital. He remained in custody as The Daily Star went to print.

The protest came as banks opened their doors Friday for the first time in two weeks. Large numbers of people gathered in front of banks even before they had opened in the early morning hours.

The length of the bank closures - since Oct. 18 - has been unprecedented in peacetime, and has led to worries of a run upon reopening; however the day proceeded calmly despite long lines.

The only other major clashes Friday took place in southern Sidon. Protesters early in the day had marched from a park near the Eliya intersection to a local branch of the Central Bank, chanting “all of them means all of them,” and “down with the rule of the bank.”

Several demonstrations have been held near branches of the Central Bank, including at its main headquarters in Beirut for most days since the protests began, amid calls for Central bank Gov. Riad Salameh to step down.

On their way back toward the park, a number of the Sidon protesters blocked the Eliya intersection, which has been occupied several times over two weeks of protests.

Soon after, the Army intervened. Wafaa, a local resident, recounted seeing her son being hit by soldiers. “I told the soldier this was my son. Then four or five soldiers pushed me to the ground and hit me with their batons,” Wafaa told The Daily Star.

“My son lost it, and three or four attacked him. They pushed people and people were thrown everywhere,” she said.

Protesters have intermittently blocked roads across Lebanon throughout the protests that began on Oct. 17. Security forces have been clearing roads in recent days only to see them blocked again soon after.

In Beirut, a road through Martyr’s Square - the symbolic heart of the capital’s uprising - was briefly reopened, before being closed about an hour later.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on November 02, 2019, on page 2.

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