Lebanon’s 9th day of protests witnesses rise in violence

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Lebanese security forces clash with supporters of Hezbollah at Riad Al-Solh square in Beirut on Oct. 25, 2019 on the ninth day of protests against tax increases and official corruption. (AFP)
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Demonstrators stand next to a riot police cordon during ongoing anti-government protests in downtown Beirut, Lebanon, October 25, 2019. (Reuters)
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Lebanese protesters block the main highway linking east and west Beirut by tents, stones and bricks during a protest in Beirut on Friday, Oct. 25, 2019. (AP)
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Anti-government protesters block the main highway linking east and west Beirut by tents, stones and bricks during a protest in Beirut, Lebanon, Friday, Oct. 25, 2019. (AP)
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An anti-government protesters hold flowers and a placard with Arabic that reads "You have put up with the state for 30 years, bear with us for a few days," as the protesters block stones and bricks during a protest in Beirut, Lebanon, Friday, Oct. 25, 2019. (AP)
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Protesters take cover from the rain under a Lebanese national flag as they gather during a demonstration on the seventh day of protest against tax increases and official corruption, in Zouk Mosbeh, north of the Lebanese capital Beirut, on October 23, 2019. (AFP)
Updated 26 October 2019

Lebanon’s 9th day of protests witnesses rise in violence

  • Dressed in plain black t-shirts common to Shiite Hezbollah and Amal movement supporters, the men shouted "we heed your call, Nasrallah"
  • Banks, universities and schools remained closed on Friday

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s ninth day of anti-government protests witnessed a change in pace as clashes erupted between Hezbollah supporters, protestors and riot police, before and after the group’s Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah’s speech.

Several people were injured as both sides hurled projectiles at one another. It was a dramatic shift from the morning, when people in Beirut’s Martyrs Square and Riad Al-Solh calmly set up stands of Lebanese merchandise, and vendors prepared their food offerings.

Riot police were forced to intervene between both sides in an attempt to deter the projectiles following Nasrallah’s speech — which was decried as similar to an earlier address given by Prime Minister Saad Hariri.

“They’re all the same: Hariri, Nasrallah, Aoun, Bassil,” Alaa Mortada, one of the protestors, told Arab News.

“Look at what they’re doing. Aren’t we all Lebanese? This is why we need to remove religion from politics,” he added.

 

Nasrallah continued to throw his weight behind the Hariri government, claiming that the protests were an “achievement” since they pushed the government to announce a budget with no tax.

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“We don’t accept toppling the presidency, we also don’t back government resignation,” he said, adding: “Lebanon has entered a dangerous phase, there are prospects that our country will be politically targeted by international, regional powers.”

He ended the speech by urging his supporters to leave the protests. Several arrests were made following the clashes.

Similar scuffles broke out on Thursday night at the same site in central Beirut.

Following the scuffles more riot police with masks and batons were dispatched to the square to defuse the situation, which appeared to be growing more tense.

The demonstrators, who have thronged towns and cities across Lebanon prompting the closure of banks and schools, have been demanding the removal of the entire political class, accusing it of systematic corruption.

Numbers have declined since Sunday, when hundreds of thousands took over Beirut and other cities in the largest demonstrations in years, but could grow again over the weekend.

Lebanon’s largely sectarian political parties have been wrong-footed by the cross-communal nature of the demonstrations, which have drawn Christians and Muslims, Shiite, Sunni and Druze.

Waving Lebanese national flags rather than the partisan colors normally paraded at demonstrations, protesters have been demanding the resignation of all of Lebanon’s political leaders.




Volunteers clear trash in a mass clean-up in central Beirut on Friday, October 25, 2019. (AFP)

In attempts to calm the anger, Prime Minister Saad Hariri has pushed through a package of economic reforms, while President Michel Aoun offered Thursday to meet with representatives of the demonstrators to discuss their demands.

But those measures have been given short shrift by demonstrators, many of whom want the government to resign to pave the way for new elections.

“We want to stay on the street to realize our demands and improve the country,” one protester, who asked to be identified only by his first name Essam, said.

“We want the regime to fall ... The people are hungry and there is no other solution in front of us,” said Essam, a 30-year-old health administrator.

On Friday morning, protesters again cut some of Beirut’s main highways, including the road to the airport and the coast road toward second city Tripoli and the north.

On the motorway north of Beirut, demonstrators had erected tents and stalls in the center of the carriageway.

But there was no sign of any move by the army to try to reopen the road.

In central Beirut, where street parties have gone on into the early hours, groups of volunteers again gathered to collect the trash.

“We are on the street to help clean up and clean up the country,” volunteer Ahmed Assi said.

“We will take part in the afternoon to find out what the next stage will be,” said the 30-year-old, who works at a clothing company.

Lebanon’s Al-Akhbar newspaper, which is close to Hezbollah, headlined its front page “Risk of chaos,” saying the movement had pledged to work to reopen blocked roads.

Hezbollah maintains a large, well-disciplined military wing.

Fares Al-Halabi, a 27-year-old activist and researcher at a non-governmental organization, said that “the Lebanese parties are trying to penetrate the demonstrations and put pressure on them or split them.”

Lebanon endured a devastating civil war that ended in 1990 and many of its current political leaders are former commanders of wartime militias, most of them recruited on sectarian lines.

Persistent deadlock between the rival faction leaders has stymied efforts to tackle the deteriorating economy, while the eight-year civil war in neighboring Syria has compounded the crisis.

More than a quarter of Lebanon’s population lives in poverty, according to the World Bank.

The post-war political system was supposed to balance the competing interests of Lebanon’s myriad sects but its effect has been to entrench power and influence along sectarian lines.

— With input from Reuters


Trump: Mideast peace plan likely rolled out in days

Updated 9 min 39 sec ago

Trump: Mideast peace plan likely rolled out in days

JERUSALEM: President Donald Trump said Thursday that he’ll likely release the long-awaited White House Mideast peace plan before his meeting early next week with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his main political rival Benny Gantz.
“It’s a great plan. It’s a plan that really would work,” Trump told reporters on Air Force One en route to a Republican Party meeting in Florida.
He said he was surprised that both Netanyahu and Gantz were willing to take a break from campaigning for the March 2 elections to join him Tuesday in Washington.
“They both would like to do the deal. They want to see peace,” Trump said. “Look, Israel wants peace, Palestinians want peace. They all want peace. Not everyone wants to say it.”
He said his administration has talked briefly to the Palestinians, who have rejected the administration’s peace plan before it even comes out.
“We’ve spoken to them briefly. But we will speak to them in a period of time,” Trump said. “And they have a lot of incentive to do it. I’m sure they maybe will react negatively at first, but it’s actually very positive to them.”
Vice President Mike Pence announced the invitation for Netanyahu and Gantz to visit during at a meeting with the prime minister in Jerusalem after addressing an international forum Thursday on the Holocaust. He said that at Netanyahu’s request, the invitation was also issued to Gantz, a former army chief.
The plan is expected to strongly favor Israel, and is unlikely to garner any international support if it is seen as undermining the prospect of a two-state solution.
“We have had no better friend than President Trump,” Netanyahu said. “With this invitation, I think that the president is seeking to give Israel the peace and security that it deserves.”
The Palestinians rejected Trump’s peace efforts after he recognized disputed Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and moved the US Embassy there in May 2018. The Palestinians want east Jerusalem, which Israel occupied in the 1967 war and annexed, to be their capital.
“If this deal is announced with these rejected formulas, the leadership will announce a series of measures in which we safeguard our legitimate rights, and we will demand Israel assume its full responsibilities as an occupying power,” said Nabil Abu Rdeneh, a spokesman for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
He appeared to be referring to oft-repeated threats to dissolve the Palestinian Authority, which has limited autonomy in parts of the Israeli-occupied West Bank. That would force Israel to resume responsibility for providing basic services to millions of Palestinians.
“We warn Israel and the US administration from crossing the red lines,” Abu Rdeneh said.
Israel’s Channel 12 TV, citing Israeli officials, said the plan is expected to be extremely favorable toward Israel and offer it control over large parts of the occupied West Bank. The Palestinians seek the entire territory, which was also captured by Israel in 1967, as the heartland of a future independent state. Most of the international community supports the Palestinian position.
Netanyahu has said he plans to annex the Jordan Valley as well as Jewish settlements across the West Bank, which would all but extinguish any possibility of creating a viable Palestinian state.
Netanyahu has tried to make that the cornerstone of his campaign for reelection following unprecedented back-to-back elections last year that left him in a virtual tie with Gantz, with neither able to cobble together a ruling coalition.
The deadlock was deepened by Netanyahu’s indictment last year on serious charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust stemming from three long-running corruption investigations. Netanyahu has asked Israel’s parliament to grant him immunity.
Next week’s meeting could produce an awkward scene. Gantz has made Netanyahu’s indictment the focus of his campaign to oust the prime minister. And his Blue and White party is leading an effort in parliament to block Netanyahu’s immunity request before the election. At the same time, they will be joined by an impeached president who is being tried in the Senate.
The US was believed to be holding back on releasing the peace plan until Israel had a permanent government. Those calculations may have changed as the deadlock in Israeli politics looks to be further prolonged.
Trump may also be looking for a boost from evangelical and pro-Israel supporters as the Senate weighs whether to remove him from office after he was impeached last month, and as he gears up for a reelection battle this year.
Pence was among dozens of world leaders in Jerusalem on Thursday for the World Holocaust Forum. Many of the participants, including Russian President Vladimir Putin and French President Emmanuel Macron, also paid visits to the Palestinians in the West Bank.
A Palestinian official said Abbas asked the visiting French and Russian presidents to support the Palestinian position when the plan is published.
“He asked them to refuse and act against any Israeli annexation of Palestinian lands,” said the official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was discussing closed meetings.
While the plan is expected to be friendly to Israel, it could still face opposition from Netanyahu’s hard-line partners.
Defense Minister Naftali Bennett, leader of the ultranationalist Yamina party, called Trump a “true friend” of Israel and said the country likely stands before a “historic opportunity.” But he said his party would not allow the transfer of any land to Palestinian control or for a Palestinian state to be established.