BEIRUT: Anti-government protesters clashed with security forces as demonstrators on Monday took to the streets in force and again blocked roads throughout Lebanon.
Last week’s resignation of Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri had prompted a lull in protests which have rocked the country since Oct. 17.
But with no new Cabinet in place, crowds packed Beirut and other Lebanese towns and cities amid reports that Hariri had on Monday afternoon met in his residence with government Minister Gebran Bassil.
It was the first meeting between them since Hariri quit but there was a media blackout on the discussions.
Sources close to the former premier told Arab News: “Consultations are taking place away from the media because the situation is critical and the search for solutions is underway so that the country cannot collapse.”
The source added that there was unlikely to be any truth in social media claims that a process for forming a new government was coming together.
The UN special coordinator for Lebanon, Jan Kubis, on Monday offered the international organization’s assistance to Lebanon’s President Michel Aoun “in the matters it wishes to achieve to face the current circumstances.”
After a weekend of relative calm, protesters filled streets in Beirut, Sidon, Tripoli, Zahle and Jal El-Dib on Sunday night in response to supporters of Aoun and the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) gathering around the presidential office.
Jihad Nammour, an activist and coordinator of the Arab Master in Democracy and Human Rights (ARMA) program, told Arab News: “After seeing the people around the presidential palace and listening to Aoun and the head of the FPM, Bassil, it became clear that the powers had ignored the people’s movement.
“Aoun and Bassil presented themselves as honest and trying to fight corruption. Aoun ignored the issue of scheduling parliamentary consultations, which enraged people and led them to renew their protests on a larger scale. The protests seem to be happening according to the people’s will,” he added.
The latest protests against the ruling elite saw more roadblocks and activists entering public buildings to urge employees to stop work and join the movement.
Educational institutions backed away from their call to resume classes. In Tripoli, in northern Lebanon, a stampede took place after the Lebanese army fired rubber bullets, injuring a young man who was taken to hospital.
Roads and banks were blocked for the first time in the Shouf area, where the majority of people support the Progressive Socialist Party.
An activist in the Zouk district, which links Beirut to northern Lebanon, said protesters had left the streets because they thought their demands were being heeded, but Aoun’s speech had led them to believe that promises were not being kept.
Another activist said: “We will bring down the remaining pillars of power in the same way we were able to bring down the government. They thought the revolution was dead, but it is not, and we are coming back stronger.”
Holistic medicine consultant, Kawsar Chayya, told Arab News: “Nothing will stop the protesters. They are able to unite using one word and bring the people back to the streets. Trust has brought them together because they are all living in the same painful situation, they fear for the country’s state, and want to fight corruption.”
Chayya said: “The authorities are still acting in the same way as they did before. If a date is set for the appointment of a new prime minister, we want that person to be one of the people and have nothing to do with politicians. We want independent ministers and early elections even if they are in accordance with the current law.
“Young people on the streets are thinking of a further escalation if their demands are not heard. We hope that things will remain peaceful.”
Nammour added: “People can no longer be silenced. They were buying their silence with money and jobs. Now that the economic situation has deteriorated and the state has fallen apart, they have no growth plan and they can no longer hire people.
They are trying everything in their power, but even their supporters will abandon them shortly and things will fall out of the hands of leaders and authorities.”
Dr. Abdul Samad said: “The battle is long, and roads cannot remain blocked for a long time. We have to think of new methods, negative cannot persist.”
He added that it was important that the president and his supporters did not ignore the demands of the Lebanese people because otherwise they would destroy the country.
“They must listen to the people and respond to their demands. Those in power think in narrow gutters, not about the fate of a country.”
Samad said it was the job of the prime minister to create a new government, not Aoun and Hezbollah. “What they are doing will ruin the country, it can no longer be run the way it used to.”