BEIRUT/SIDON: Protesters and riot police have increased in number in Beirut's Riad al-Solh Monday, after a group of demonstrators briefly crossed the barbed-wire barrier between them and the seat of the Lebanese Government.
A small group was able to cross the reels of wire that have separated Riad al-Solh from the Grand Serail since Oct. 19, but quickly returned to the square, local media reported.
Following the incident, riot police deployed to the area in greater numbers, which in turn encouraged more protesters to make their way to the square, which has been the center of the past 12 days of protests in the capital.
Rain continued to fall across Lebanon Monday afternoon, which saw perhaps the lowest turnout of protesters since the mass anti-government protests began on Oct. 17. Nonetheless, a few dozen braved the elements in Riad al-Solh, dancing the traditional dabke dance, clad in plastic ponchos.
Roads throughout the country remained blocked with cars, tires and protesters themselves.
This latest action comes after a poster circulated on social media late Sunday, calling on citizens to obstruct the country’s roads with their cars, in a bid to apply pressure on the government, as commuters took to the streets at the start of a new work week. "A million cars on the street, what will they do with them?" the poster read.
Dozens of protesters blocked Beirut’s Ring Bridge with cars and apartment furniture, including couches and mattresses, with the aim of keeping the country at a standstill.
The blockade of the highway continued from the previous evening, with protesters diverting the flow of traffic toward Ashrafieh off the bridge, and allowing only ambulances to pass.
“Our response to police violence is to peacefully set up furniture to block the highway and let them know we’re not going anywhere. We live here now,” protester Sarah Abou Jaoude, 27, told The Daily Star.
“We’re going to stay here as long as it takes to get rid of the politicians and the current system,” said Dina, 21.
Police presence was prominent in Downtown Beirut, where roads remained closed. The parking lot opposite Mohammad Al Amin Mosque, which has been occupied by food stalls during the protests, was blocked off by metal barricades, making vendors much less accessible than they were over the weekend.
"This is the first time they have blocked us off like this. People can't get in. The police came and told us that the protests were over and to pack up," said 21-year-old Ali Nassar, who has set up a stall selling kaak.
Defense Minister Elias Bou Saab, speaking to OTV earlier in the day, confirmed that “the army is present on the roads, but won’t open them by force in order to avoid any clashes with citizens.” He added that “road closures need to be addressed quickly ... and we will have a meeting soon to solve this.”
In the early morning in Sidon, dozens of demonstrators obstructed the city’s main roads, blocking the north and south entrances with flaming tires. Protesters also blocked downtown Sidon, preventing workers from reaching their shops. The road leading to Electricite du Liban was blocked, and demonstrators barricaded the doors of the building to prevent employees from entering.
By noon, the Lebanese Army had forcibly removed the blockade, allowing cars to pass. However, protesters remained steadfast, moving the focus of their demonstration to the Central Bank of Lebanon.
Approximately 200 protesters sat in the square in front of the bank, expressing their rejection of the financial policy of Central Bank Governor Riad Salameh. Police and Army forces surrounded the area.
Main highways connecting north and south Lebanon to Beirut were also blocked.
The entrance of Deir Ammar was choked off with parked cars from the early hours of Monday morning, the state-run National News Agency reported.
The Halba highway was completely blocked with burning tires, while the highway linking Tripoli to Dinnieh was also blocked.
Tension has mounted in recent days between security forces and protesters, who have used the blocking of roads as a method to pressure the government into meeting their demands.
The Army has sought to reopen main roads across the country. Banks, schools and universities have been closed for more than a week, and businesses paralyzed since unprecedented anti-government street protests erupted on Oct. 17 over worsening economic conditions and corruption.