Lebanon News

Protests not stopping just yet

BEIRUT/SIDON: While the mass protests that swept Lebanon for 15 days appeared to slow down Saturday, they have not yet come to a halt.

Tripoli showed itself once again to be the heart of the protest movement, with hundreds gathered in Al-Nour Square by early evening. Earlier in the day, buses departed from Beirut and Bekaa to take protesters to join the demonstration, which has become known for its DJ sets and party atmosphere.

In Sidon, dozens gathered at the Eliya intersection, waving signs that read, "Honk if you're with the revolution." Others handed roses to Lebanese Army soldiers stationed in the area.

On Friday evening, five people were injured in a scuffle with Lebanese Army personnel, as they tried to open a central road being blocked by protesters.

People gathered around a row of candles in Beirut's Riad al-Solh Square at a memorial for two men who died during the protests, in incidents unrelated to the demonstrations themselves. Many had, once again, camped overnight in the two main squares of the capital: Riad al-Solh and Martyrs' Square. More protesters joined them as the day wore on.

Life had seemed to return to normal Saturday morning, as traffic flowed freely across the country, banks continued operations and children attended school.

With the exception of Riad al-Solh and streets leading up to it, roads across the capital were open to cars Saturday. The “Ring Bridge,” which has seen back-and-forth between protesters blocking it and security forces wishing to open it to traffic, was open in both directions, though a handful of dedicated protesters remained camped out at the edge of the road.

Protesters have held demonstrations across the country for more than two weeks against government corruption, the decades-old sectarian system and a deteriorating economy, but such gatherings have decreased significantly in the last few days.

However, the weekend may yet see more demonstrations, with calls to protest in squares across the country on Sunday circulating on social media.

On Tuesday, Saad Hariri bowed to public pressure and resigned as prime minister. Hariri, and all the members of the government he led, now acts in a caretaker capacity until a new cabinet is formed.

Whatever emerges from the parliamentary consultations with President Michel Aoun to name the person who will form a new government, which are expected to start at the beginning of next week, will likely send Lebanese citizens back to the streets.

The two options currently on the table are a purely technocratic government or a mixed “politico-technocratic” government, in which ministers have the relevant knowledge to manage their portfolio while remaining aligned to some extent with a particular political party or bloc.

During the demonstrations, banks, schools and universities were closed, though many reopened Friday.

In Sidon, 16-year-old Mohammad Wasat sat at the front of his school bus, calling out “Revolutionaries, Revolutionaries, we want to continue the [struggle].” His fellow classmates repeated his chant in unison.

“We don’t want to go to school, not because we hate learning, but to finish our revolution,” he told The Daily Star.

UNRWA, the United Nations Palestinian refugee agency, also reopened its schools to students this week. Inside south Lebanon’s refugee camps, students returned to classes on Thursday, but children attending classes in the city of Sidon itself had to wait until Saturday.

 

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