BEIRUT: Hundreds of protesters gathered at the entrances to Beirut's "ring bridge" Sunday evening to close it off to traffic as part of ongoing anti-regime demonstrations across Lebanon.
Protesters blocked the road that connects east and west Beirut with their bodies, vehicles and even household goods such as mattresses and fridges.
They had opened the road Sunday morning after security forces had failed to keep it open it Saturday. Activists said the road was opened to allow easy access to participants in a large protest for Sunday afternoon in Downtown Beirut.
Security officials had agreed on a plan Saturday to open roads across the country without the use of violence.
As Sunday wore on, the numbers of protesters in the streets and squares continued to increase, with demonstrators enjoying the jubilant atmosphere, participating in "open discussions" organized by various universities and activist groups, and enjoying snacks from the dozens of stalls set up by astute vendors.
As the sun set, the lights of the protests shone again as demonstrators set off bright red flares and strobe lights beamed out from giant stages.
The northern city of Tripoli once again witnessed demonstrators gathering in the central Al-Nour Square, seemingly unfazed by the previous day's violence in nearby Beddawi.
Several people were injured in the town, which is around 5 kilometers north of Tripoli, as the Army attempted to open a road being blocked by protesters. The Army fired tear gas and rubber bullets in clashes with protesters; several demonstrators and soldiers were wounded.
Earlier Sunday, tens of thousands of protesters linked arms in a bid to form a 170-kilometer “Lebanese Human Chain” spanning the country from north to south to symbolize national unity.
By noon, hundreds had gathered along the coast of Beirut, Sidon, Tyre and Tripoli, joining hands on the 11th day of the nationwide uprising. Televised footage showed participants in Beirut, Sidon, Tyre and along the northbound highway, but it was not clear whether they formed a continuous human chain from Tyre to Tripoli as announced.
However, organizer Julie Tegho Bou Nassif said that the participants successfully covered the entire distance by approximately 3 p.m., despite “some gaps.” Exact numbers of participants have not been confirmed but organizers estimated that 170,000 people would be needed to form a continuous chain.
The turnout “was very overwhelming to see and it confirmed our hunch that Lebanese people want to be unified and that they have come together,” Bou Nassif, who pioneered the concept, told The Daily Star shortly after the event ended at 3 p.m.
Cyril Bassil, one of the main organizers working with Bou Nassif, said that the human chain symbolized "the unity of Lebanon no matter what social class or religion you come from. ... We are all one."
"We’re all holding each other’s hand. When we think of each other as one, that’s when we start to work together. We need to live together and respect each other," he said.
Bou Nassif and that she and her sister Edith Tegho came up with the idea over breakfast last Tuesday and started a Facebook event that went viral shortly after.
Bassil explained that by Wednesday, there was a team of over 300 volunteers from south Lebanon to Akkar in the north.
"Now it’s probably quadrupled because people are spontaneously helping us on the ground," he said.
A protestor taking part in the human chain in the Raouche area said, “We’re proud to be Lebanese and that we are standing here to reclaim our rights.”
A participant in a wheelchair called on all Lebanese people to join the uprising.
“We are taking our independence now. ... This is the last chance for the Lebanese people” she said.
Throughout the day, the main highways connecting north and south Lebanon to Beirut remained blocked, while roads inside the capital were accessible.
The northbound highway was blocked in Zouk Mosbeh, Jal al-Dib, Jbeil and other areas, while the southbound highway was blocked in Jiyyeh.
A main road in Akkar’s Halba was later blocked by tires and cars, the state-run National News Agency reported.
Activists in Downtown, Zouk Mosbeh and Sidon conducted their daily clean-up campaign to clear the previous night’s trash Sunday morning. In Jal al-Dib, dozens gathered for the Sunday mass, which was held at the protest site.
Hundreds of thousands of Lebanese have been taking to the streets since Oct. 17 in protests against the ruling class and corruption. The protests started when ministers announced government proposals of tax hikes.
On Saturday, tens of thousands of Lebanese gathered in public squares in Beirut, Tripoli, Sidon, Tyre, Nabatieh, Jal al-Dib and Zouk Mosbeh, as well as in the Bekaa Valley and other areas across the country.
Lebanese expats held solidarity protests in Sydney, London and Montreal. Hundreds gathered in each city, holding Lebanese flags and singing patriotic songs.