Lebanon News

Thousands take streets in biggest protest yet

Women shout slogans as they attend a protest in Downtown Beirut, Oct. 20, 2019. (The Daily Star/Hasan Shaaban)

BEIRUT: Hundreds of thousands of people across Lebanon headed to the streets in the fourth day of protests, with one of the biggest demonstrations being held in Beirut’s Central District.

In Tripoli and Batroun, in north Lebanon; Tyre, in south Lebanon; Deir al-Qamar, in Mount Lebanon, and many other towns, thousands turned out for the demonstrations.

Buses also took protesters from Bekaa to Beirut to join the protest at Riad al-Solh Square facing the Grand Serail, the seat of government.

Carrying Lebanese flags, demonstrators held placards with slogans against the ruling class, while chanting “Revolution!” and “You are all thieves.”

They also unfurled a huge Lebanese flag banner through Riad al-Solh Square.

Sunday’s demonstrations picked up again after a night of carnival-like protest, during which tents were set up in the square.

Sunday morning, protesters gathered trash, sorted it, and put it in dozens of different-colored bags.

“We are sorting. Can you see that [Fadi] Jreissati?” one protester said, referring to the environment minister’s recent admonition not to complain unless you sort your garbage.

For its part, the state dispatched bulldozers to remove debris from the capital’s streets.

In Tripoli, thousands took to the streets, filling Al-Nour Square, chanting in support of different areas around the country where people have been protesting.

“What do the people want?” shouted the emcee. “Down with the regime,” the protesters shouted back.

In the afternoon, renowned singer Marcel Khalifeh sang some his famous revolutionary songs with the crowd.

Earlier in the day, a brief dispute broke out in Tripoli, local TV channel LBCI reported, after a demonstrator who carried the Turkish flag was confronted by protesters.

“It is not allowed to raise any flag other than the Lebanese flag,” one protester said.

The Voice of Lebanon radio station (100.3) later reported that someone was injured after being pushed over and had been taken to the hospital.

“They confronted us with guns ... enough!” said one protester in Tyre, referring to a dispute that broke out Saturday between demonstrators and supporters of the Amal Movement, which wields powerful influence in the area.

“An armed man shouted in my face and told me, ‘Get out of here before I shoot you,’” N.B., another participant in Saturday’s protest, said Sunday. “We will continue with our mobilization, we have broken the Amal Movement’s prestige and we have overcome the barrier of fear.”

The Amal Movement issued a statement Saturday saying that it is against having armed people in the city, and that it would conduct an investigation to see who was responsible.

Security measures were also taken at the entrances to Baabda, where the presidential palace is located, with Lebanese Army soldiers deployed on pedestrian bridges in Hazmieh.

Protesters marched between Deir al-Qamar and Kfar Heem in Chouf.

“We are all living in Chouf united. Be they Druze, Christians or Muslims, all of us,” one said.

“Open your eyes Walid Beik, the people are being treated unfairly,” another protester said, referring to Progressive Socialist Party leader Walid Joumblatt, a prominent figure in the Chouf area.

Similar scenes took place in Zahle’s Chtoura, with protesters joining the nationwide demonstrations against the current situation.

“It’s not Nasrallah who decides what we want,” one protester said, referring to Hezbollah Secretary-General Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah.

Speaking in a televised speech Saturday, Nasrallah told political parties that none can succeed in ending President Michel Aoun’s term.

“We will not leave the streets before Aoun’s term ends,” the protester said.

The nationwide demonstrations broke out Thursday after Cabinet ministers announced the imposition of new and increased taxes, in a bid to increase state revenues. The measures included a $0.20 daily fee on internet voice calls using applications such as WhatsApp, which many refer to as the straw that broke the camel’s back.

Calls on the government to resign and political leaders to step down echoed across the country.

Prime Minister Saad Hariri Friday gave 72 hours for political parties to discuss ways to implement reforms to salvage the situation, in what many interpreted to be a threat that he may resign Monday.

The Lebanese Forces announced Saturday night that its four ministers would resign from Hariri’s Cabinet.

 

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