BEIRUT: Lebanese protesters on Tuesday changed tactics with sit-ins outside public services buildings after soldiers moved in to remove demonstration roadblocks set up in towns and cities throughout the country.
The new approach by anti-government protesters came as the Lebanese judiciary took steps toward combating corruption by revealing it would be taking legal action against former minister, Fayez Shukr, over allegations of “job negligence.”
Financial prosecutor, Judge Ali Ibrahim, made the announcement after lawyers of the civil society Muttahidun (United) filed a claim against Shukr last July for allegedly “receiving huge compensation” from the National Social Security Fund.
The society alleged that Shukr, who served as a minister of state in the government of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri from 1995 to 1996, was registered as an observing doctor for more than 15 years but never practiced, his name did not appear on doctors’ lists for hospitals or medical centers, and no fund users ever saw him.
Pro-Syria Shukr had been secretary-general of the Ba’ath Party in Lebanon since 2006 and rejected a decision by the party’s leadership in Damascus in 2015 to dissolve the Lebanese national secretariat due to a crisis between the Ba’athists.
Meanwhile, the civil movement in Lebanon against the country’s political elite on Tuesday entered its 20th day with protesters calling on President Michel Aoun to set a date for parliamentary consultations to assign a new prime minister to head a government composed of non-politicians.
Following the resignation last week of Premier Saad Hariri, demonstrators are demanding parliamentary elections be held as soon as possible.
This section contains relevant reference points, placed in (Opinion field)
On Tuesday morning crowds again blocked roads, causing traffic chaos and leaving motorists stranded for hours. However, the Lebanese army moved in to remove obstacles on highways and tents set up in streets and on roundabouts.
Commando forces were deployed in the Jal El-Dib and Zouk Mosbeh areas, which link Beirut to northern Lebanon and Mount Lebanon. Despite some resistance there were no reports of violence, although security forces arrested a number of protesters and confiscated audio equipment.
With roads open again, demonstrators resorted to sit-ins outside official institutions and private companies operating state services. One of their first targets was the headquarters of Touch, one of two mobile telecoms and data operators in Lebanon, based in the center of Beirut. Dozens of protesters sat in front of the entrance and raised banners demanding a reduction in the cost of services.
The nationwide protests which have crippled Lebanon were sparked on Oct. 17 after the government proposed an increase in charges for use of the WhatsApp service as part of efforts to ease Lebanon’s financial crisis.
Elsewhere in the capital, protesters set up camp outside a bank on Hamra Street, while in the northern city of Tripoli they forced the closure of public institutions, official bureaus and banks.
The Progressive Socialist Party (PSP) protested against an attempt by activists to undermine a memorial on a roundabout in the predominantly Druze town of Baakleen.
Meanwhile, a date for binding parliamentary consultations on the naming of a new prime minister for Lebanon had still not been confirmed.
OTV, which is affiliated to the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM), said there had been no statement on the outcome of a meeting held on Monday between Hariri and FPM leader Gebran Bassil, although the TV station did say “the trend is for a techno-political government with no more than 24 ministers.”
In a statement on similar lines, Mustafa Alloush, a member of the political bureau of the Future Movement, said: “The technocratic government option is logical.”
Former Lebanese premier, Fouad Siniora, said: “The president’s consultations with the parliamentary blocs on the nature of the new government, its form and membership, is a violation of the letter and the spirit of the constitution.
“It is also a violation of the constitutional authority of the prime minister-designate. President Aoun should speed up the timing of consultations because Lebanon no longer has the luxury of time and waiting.”
Sethrida Geagea, a member of the Lebanese Forces (LF) parliamentary bloc, said after her visit to the Maronite Patriarch Bechara Al-Rahi that the LF wanted “a government composed of independents or we will face a human explosion.”
She added: “Regardless of whether Prime Minister Saad Hariri will accept his mandate or not, but we, the LF, will not participate in a political government, and will not accept any external side to interfere in the formation of the government.
“I ask the president of the republic to open the door for parliamentary consultations as soon as possible because the situation is intolerable.”