Lebanon News

Protesters close roads, call for release of detainees

Anti-government protesters scuffle with riot police, as they demand the release of those taken into custody the night before, outside a police headquarter, in Beirut, Jan. 15, 2020. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla)

BEIRUT: The friends and families of detained demonstrators protested outside the Helou police barracks for more than 12 hours Wednesday, calling for their release. Meanwhile, protesters continued to close roads across the country and maintained their pressure against the banking sector in the country.Later Wednesday, a large group of protesters headed to the barracks demanding the release of what they described as the arbitrary arrest of more than 50 people in Beirut’s Hamra overnight who remained detained in the barracks. This came after protesters gathered outside in the early hours of the morning to protest.

Members of the Internal Security Forces formed a human wall on both sides of the street, to keep protesters on the sidewalk and allow traffic to pass. At least two people were arrested during scuffles with police officers as increasing numbers of protesters arrived and blocked the road. Hundreds then marched to join the demonstration from in front of the Central Bank.

Protesters chanted “down with the rule of thugs” and “police state” as residents of nearby building banged pots and pans from their balconies in solidarity.

The protesters were arrested overnight Tuesday following hours of clashes with security forces in Hamra.

A group then proceeded down Hamra’s main street, smashing ATMs and bank windows.

The ISF issued a statement saying that its head Maj. Gen. Imad Othman gave orders to pursue protesters and utilize tear gas to disperse crowds accused of “persistently assaulting, smashing and breaking public and private property in Hamra.”

The team of lawyers tasked with representing the detainees condemned the “arbitrary” nature of their arrest, calling their extended detention and treatment “unacceptable.” One lawyer said that while none of the detainees said they had been beaten in detention, many bore bruises from altercations with police.

Lawyer Ayman Raad issued a statement calling for the detainees to be released pending further investigation and said that many were not involved in Tuesday’s vandalism.

A judicial source told The Daily Star that legally, the ISF can keep suspects in detention for 48 hours.

According to demonstrators outside the police barracks, seven people were taken and detained from inside the T-Marbouta restaurant on Hamra’s main street. An ISF source said, “investigations would reveal the details of what happened.”

“It’s a political decision to use force against protests ... and it is never justified,” Joseph, who did not want to give his surname, told The Daily Star.

“We cannot withdraw money to pay expenses or rent, I don’t know what the state is expecting,” he added.

At least three students at the American University of Beirut were among those detained. Dany Rachid, the president of the AUB Secular Club, said “people have nothing to lose anymore,” adding “what they’re doing is an expression of anger and reaction to the policies of the state, that are unjust toward the most marginalized people.”

Caretaker Prime Minister Saad Hariri called it an “attack targeting Beirut and its role as the capital and economic center.”

“The attack on Hamra was totally unacceptable, and it is an attack I do not want to blame on the revolution and their anger toward banks. However, it was a black stain on any part justifying it,” Hariri said in a statement.

Speaker Nabih Berri suggested those involved weren’t part of the “civil movement” and were only seeking to “destroy the country.”

Elsewhere in Lebanon, in Tripoli, at Beirut’s “Ring Bridge,” roads were blocked with burning tires. Schools and universities in the city suspended their classes for the day, owing to the blockades.

In Jounieh, students blocked one side of a highway, and later scuffled with Army soldiers who deployed on the ground and forcibly re-opened the road. At least two people were detained. In the south, protesters and students from Sidon continued to demonstrate in front of various commercial banks. Demonstrators also gathered in front of the Central Bank in Baalbeck, preventing employees from entering. - Additional reporting by Ghada Alsharif

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on January 16, 2020, on page 2.

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