Lebanese protesters vent anger at central bank, clash with security forces

An army armored personnel carrier removes a garbage container set on fire by anti-government protesters in Beirut, Lebanon, Monday, Oct. 28, 2019. (AP)
Updated 03 November 2019

Lebanese protesters vent anger at central bank, clash with security forces

  • Groups of activists marched on the central bank and branches across Lebanon calling for the resignation of its governor

BEIRUT: Protests in Lebanon entered their 12th day as security forces clashed with demonstrators blocking main roads in Beirut and routes connecting the capital to other regions.

There were flashpoints across the city as authorities attempted to reopen key highways shut off by protesters in a bid to maintain pressure for political change.

Groups of activists marched on the central bank and branches across Lebanon calling for the resignation of its governor, Riad Salameh, who they hold responsible for the country’s financial woes.

The Lebanese banking association decided on Monday to stick with its decision to keep banks shut on Tuesday, marking the longest period of bank closures in the country’s financial history.

However, following an exceptional meeting, the association stressed its commitment to “pay out salaries for public sector workers, including security forces,” adding that the central bank was “working to secure necessary liquidity for this purpose.”

A group of lawyers, sympathetic to the protesters, staged a sit-in outside the Justice Palace in Beirut. MPs from the parliamentary bloc loyal to President Michel Aoun announced lifting bank secrecy on their accounts.  

Protesters have accused head of bloc and foreign minister, Gebran Bassil, of corruption and are demanding he stand down along with others.

Member of the Labanese Parliament, Eddy Maalouf, said: “The decision to lift bank secrecy will include ministers and MPs and the two female deputies of the head of the Free Patriotic Movement, by signing documents at the notary’s office, to lift bank secrecy on their accounts in Lebanon and abroad.

“This step marks the beginning of initiatives by the Free Patriotic Movement to reach the adoption of anti-corruption laws, to ensure the accountability of corrupt officials and unveil the truth before the people, instead of the prevailing wave of disinformation, slander and lies.”

In an attempt by the authority to prove its seriousness in the implementation of the reform package it had announced earlier, Lebanon’s Prime Minister Saad Hariri on Monday presided over a meeting of the ministerial council to study the draft general amnesty law.

Following a meeting with Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, a delegation from the Aounist parliamentary bloc reiterated “the need to adopt legislative proposals it had previously presented, related to anti-corruption, accountability and recovery of looted wealth.”  

The bloc’s secretary-general, MP Ibrahim Kanaan, said that Berri would “activate the work and ask the parliamentary committees to start studying all proposals and the 2020 draft budget, without any delay.”

Afifa Al-Sayed, veteran activist from the civil society, told Arab News: “The young men and women in the streets are tired, especially as they have not received any prompt response to their demands and that their movement is not organized.

“Security bodies on Monday opened the roads by force, in Sidon in particular. Protesters in the streets are starting to feel that the situation is cooling down. If we give up and leave the streets, they will work on further breaking us.

“This is the revolution and the cause of the youth, and they cannot be told what to do. They are even refusing to be told what to do next. If things stay this way, they might lead to chaos and this might be advantageous since it will make the authority feel uncertain,” she added.

“Meanwhile, some groups are building strategies and ideas for the revolution and are trying to contact other groups protesting on the ground to suggest names that can be trusted to speak in their names. But until then, it is the revolution of the youth, and they decide what they want.”




Lebanese anti-government protesters practice yoga on a blocked avenue in the center of the capital Beirut. (AFP)

Another activist, Randa Al-Yaseer, told Arab News: “More meetings are being organized to find new ways to protest, especially that people are starting to feel tired, therefore, protests in the streets might be transformed to other activities. 

“If I tell protesters something they do not like, they ask me to leave. They say even their parents cannot tell them what do. Some groups are communicating on social media outlets and refuse to reveal their identities. That is their right, since there are fears of getting arrested by the authority and security bodies, which can mean the end of the protests. 

“Even the protest squares are being attacked. Some people come at night and steal the chairs and tables we bought with our own money. Some women have been offering water bottles and sandwiches to people in the streets, to discover later that some people were selling the bottles and sandwiches for one dollar,” added Al-Yaseer.

“We cannot say that the movement is failing. People are surprising us. They are showing motivation, but only in the afternoon and at night.”


Lebanon in ‘state of emergency’ as Beirut blast death toll climbs

Updated 05 August 2020

Lebanon in ‘state of emergency’ as Beirut blast death toll climbs

  • Toll expected to rise as worker search rubble for missing
  • Beirut mayor says Lebanon in grip of a “catastrophe“

BEIRUT: Lebanese rescue teams pulled out bodies and hunted for missing in the wreckage of buildings on Wednesday as investigations blamed negligence for a massive warehouse explosion that sent a devastating blast wave across Beirut, killing at least 135.
More than 5,000 people were injured in Tuesday’s explosion at Beirut port, Health Minister Hamad Hassan said, and up to 250,000 were left without homes fit to live in after shockwaves smashed building facades, sucked furniture out into streets and shattered windows miles inland.
Hassan said tens of people remained missing. Prime Minister Hassan Diab declared three days of mourning from Thursday.
The death toll was expected to rise from the blast, which officials blamed on a huge stockpile of highly explosive material stored for years in unsafe conditions at the port.
The explosion was the most powerful ever to rip through Beirut, a city still scarred by civil war that ended three decades ago and reeling from an economic meltdown and a surge in coronavirus infections. The blast rattled buildings on the Mediterranean island of Cyprus, about 100 miles (160 km) away.

President Michel Aoun said 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate, used in fertilizers and bombs, had been stored for six years at the port without safety measures, after it was seized.
In an address to the nation during an emergency cabinet session, Aoun said: “No words can describe the horror that has hit Beirut last night, turning it into a disaster-stricken city.”
He said the government was “determined to investigate and expose what happened as soon as possible, to hold the responsible and the negligent accountable.”
An official source familiar with preliminary investigations blamed the incident on “inaction and negligence,” saying “nothing was done” by committees and judges involved in the matter to order the removal of hazardous material.
The cabinet ordered port officials involved in storing or guarding the material since 2014 to be put under house arrest, ministerial sources told Reuters. The cabinet also announced a two-week state of emergency in Beirut.
Ordinary Lebanese, who have lost jobs and watched savings evaporate in Lebanon’s financial crisis, blamed politicians who have overseen decades of state corruption and bad governance.
“This explosion seals the collapse of Lebanon. I really blame the ruling class,” said Hassan Zaiter, 32, a manager at the heavily damaged Le Gray Hotel in downtown Beirut.
The health minister said the death toll had climbed to 135, as the search for victims continued after shockwaves from the blast hurled some of the victims into the sea.
Relatives gathered at the cordon to Beirut port seeking information on those still missing. Many of those killed were port and custom employees, people working in the area or those driving nearby during the Tuesday evening rush hour.
The Red Cross was coordinating with the Health Ministry to set up morgues as hospitals were overwhelmed. Health officials said hospitals were struggling with the big influx of casualties and were running out of beds and equipment to attend to the injured and those in critical condition. Beirut’s Clemenceau Medical Center was “like a slaughterhouse, blood covering the corridors and the lifts,” said Sara, one of its nurses.
Beirut Governor Marwan Abboud told broadcaster LBC the blast had caused damage worth up to $5 billion, and possibly more, and left up to 250,000 people without homes.
“This is the killer blow for Beirut, we are a disaster zone,” said Bilal, a man in his 60s, in the downtown area.
Offers of international support poured in. Gulf Arab states, who in the past were major financial supporters of Lebanon but recently stepped back because of what they say is Iranian meddling, sent planes with medical equipment and other supplies. Iran offered food and a field hospital, ISNA news agency said.
The United States, Britain, France and other Western nations, which have been demanding political and economic change in Lebanon, also offered help. Germany, the Netherlands and Cyprus offered specialized search and rescue teams.
Two French planes were expected to arrive on Thursday with 55 rescuers, medical equipment and a mobile clinic. French President Emmanuel Macron will also visit Lebanon on Thursday. Other Arab and European countries are sending doctors, mobile hospitals and equipment.
For many it was a dreadful reminder of the 1975-1990 civil war that tore the nation apart and destroyed swathes of Beirut, much of which had since been rebuilt.
“This is a catastrophe for Beirut and Lebanon.” Beirut’s mayor, Jamal Itani, told Reuters while inspecting damage.
Officials did not say what caused the initial blaze at the port that set off the blast. A security source and media said it was started by welding work being carried out on a warehouse.
Taxi driver Abou Khaled said ministers “are the first that should be held accountable for this disaster. They committed a crime against the people of this nation with their negligence.”
The port district was left a tangled wreck, disabling the nation’s main route for imports needed to feed a nation of more than 6 million people.
Lebanon has already been struggling to house and feed refugees fleeing conflict in neighboring Syria and has no trade or other ties with its only other neighbor Israel.
“On a scale, this explosion is scaled down from a nuclear bomb rather than up from a conventional bomb,” said Roland Alford, managing director of British explosive ordnance disposal firm Alford Technologies. “This is huge.”
The blast prompted the Special Tribunal for Lebanon on Wednesday to postpone its verdict in the trial over the 2005 bombing that killed ex-Prime Minister Rafik Al-Hariri to Aug. 18. The tribunal’s decision had been expected this Friday.
The UN-backed court put on trial four suspects from the Iranian-backed Shiite Muslim group Hezbollah. Hariri and 21 others were killed by a big truck bomb on another part of the Beirut waterfront, about 2 km (about one mile) from the port.