Lebanon protesters block MPs as street battles erupt

A protester waves a Lebanese flag during a protest in Beirut. (Reuters)
Updated 20 November 2019

Lebanon protesters block MPs as street battles erupt

  • Protesters in Riad Al-Solh and Martyrs’ squares banged metal pots and chanted anti-government slogans

BEIRUT: Lebanese protesters set up roadblocks to prevent MPs reaching Parliament on Tuesday, accusing lawmakers of planning legislation that could offer amnesty to corrupt officials.
Amid angry scenes, protesters fought running skirmishes with riot police and formed human shields as they succeeded in shutting down Parliament for a second week.
Protesters took to the streets on Oct. 17 amid widespread anger over tax increases and government corruption, forcing Prime Minister Saad Hariri to resign 12 days later despite backing for the Lebanese leader from President Michel Aoun and Hezbollah.
Since then the country’s powerful political blocs have been reluctant to form a new government of nonpolitical experts, as protesters have demanded. No new prime minister has been selected to form a government.
In order to accept his reappointment to form a government, Hariri stipulated that the new leadership should consist only of technocrats — a key protesters’ demand — while Aoun and his allies insist that the government should be techno-political.
After Tuesday’s clashes outside Parliament, Parliamentary Speaker Nabih Berri said: “The situation is very dangerous. We are facing deadlock in the formation of the government.”
Army and internal security forces were deployed at road junctions leading to the Parliament on Tuesday amid unprecedented control measures.
Security forces established camouflaged corridors to allow deputies access. Hezbollah deputy Ali Ammar arrived on motorcycle after passing through a throng of protesters chanting “thieves.”
MP Mohamed Nasrallah from the Berri bloc also arrived on foot.
Escorts for Finance Minister Ali Hassan Khalil’s convoy fired shots in the air to keep protesters at bay. He managed to reach Parliament, but the shooting angered demonstrators, who hurled rocks at the car.

HIGHLIGHTS

• Army and internal security forces were deployed at road junctions leading to the Parliament on Tuesday amid unprecedented control measures.

• Escorts for Finance Minister Ali Hassan Khalil’s convoy fired shots in the air to keep protesters at bay. He managed to reach Parliament, but the shooting angered demonstrators, who hurled rocks at the car.

Protesters tried to remove barbed wire barricades in an attempt to break into Parliament’s perimeter, but were fought back by security forces.
“How can they not hear our demands until now?” shouted one protester, Marwa. “We have been on the street for more than a month and they do not see us. They want to continue exercising power as usual. We will not allow them, even if it leads to our death.”
Protesters in Riad Al-Solh and Martyrs’ squares banged metal pots and chanted anti-government slogans.
“They are thieves and looters of public money. They want to take refuge in a general amnesty law that we will not allow them to pass,” said one.
Some parliamentary blocs decided to boycott the session “out of respect for the will of the people,” MP Dima Jamali said on Twitter.
More than 60 deputies from the Future Movement, Lebanese Forces, Phalange, Marada Movement, former leader Najib Mikati’s bloc and the Democratic Gathering bloc joined the boycott.
With only four deputies present, Secretary-General of the Parliament Adnan Daher announced the postponement of the session after two hours.
MP Nasrallah said the Parliament was “doing its duty to serve the protesters through an agenda of draft laws and proposals to serve the demands of the movement.”
Activist Mahmoud Fakih told Arab News that protesters will continue to push the authorities to set a date for “binding parliamentary consultations to appoint a prime minister and form a national salvation government from technocrats and not from known political faces.”
He said: “The movement is under pressure and may be exposed to more pressure over time,” he said. “We know the authorities may try to turn us against each other. We should be aware of this.”

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Erdogan-Davutoglu standoff before launch of splinter party

Updated 09 December 2019

Erdogan-Davutoglu standoff before launch of splinter party

  • Davutoglu is among the founders of the university being built on land in Istanbul’s Asian sector

ANKARA: Turkish domestic politics has seen intense infighting over the weekend between two leaders who were once close allies.

Former prime minister and architect of Turkey’s “zero problem policy with neighbors,” Ahmet Davutoglu, who is preparing to launch his opposition party, was called “fraudulent” by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Saturday.

Erdogan accused his former allies — Davutoglu as well as former deputy prime ministers Ali Babacan and Mehmet Simsek — of swindling state-run Halkbank by not making payments in time and by inappropriately allocating public land to Sehir University.

Babacan and Simsek are also expected to start another opposition party by the end of the year, which is believed to have liberal leanings.

Davutoglu is among the founders of the university being built on land in Istanbul’s Asian sector.

“They are not sincere people,” Erdogan said. “We allocated the land for the university just because we cared for them. How could I allot such a precious land otherwise?”

Around midnight, Davutoglu released a harshly worded press statement hitting back and called on the Turkish Parliament to investigate the wealth of the president and his family as well as that of high-ranking officials.

Davutoglu insists that the land for his university was allocated lawfully. The standoff is mostly seen as political revenge, not a legal conflict, especially as Davutoglu’s new party is expected to be announced within days.

The assets of Sehir University were recently frozen by a court order after Halkbank claimed that the university might not be able to pay back the $70 million credit it had taken. Sehir, which has more than 7,000 students, will be turned over to state-run Marmara University and hosts many foreigners from the Gulf region with their future at stake.

Davutoglu’s splinter party against Erdogan is set to launch within days at a press conference in Ankara.

The party, whose name has not been announced, intends to appeal to some of the disillusioned voters of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), but also other segments including Kurds and Alevis.

Davutoglu has recently increased his criticism of the government, focusing on backpedaling on the rule of law, freedoms and rights.

According to a high-level official from the council of founders of Davutoglu’s incoming party, the latest row between Erdogan and Davutoglu would benefit the latter.

“It has created a feeling of victimhood among public opinion, and many people started to question the timing of this accusation and why this issue didn’t make headlines before. It is a political showdown,” he told Arab News on condition of anonymity.

“If Erdogan accuses his former allies of corruption and fraud, why did he insist on Babacan remaining in the party when he was determined to leave and establish his own party? It is also unfortunate to target an educational institution for trying to weaken an incoming political party.”

Davutoglu, a former academic, was forced to resign his post in 2016 over his disagreements with Erdogan. Davutoglu and the council of founders will disclose their wealth with the legal foundation of the party, and this step is expected to bring them more support from the public, which attaches importance to transparency in politicians.

According to a survey carried out by the Turkish polling firm Metropoll during Oct. 20-26 via interviews with 1,669 people in 28 provinces, 74 percent of AKP voters expressed themselves “loyal” to Erdogan. Over the past year, AKP has lost 10 percent of its members, say official figures.

Another survey by Ankara-based research company ORC showed that in a general election, 8.5 percent of the respondents would support Davutoglu.

To gain seats in the Parliament, new parties prefer to form coalitions with others that are more established to pass the 10 percent threshold. Davutoglu has been meeting politicians over recent months, especially Temel Karamollaoglu, the head of the Islamist opposition Felicity Party, which is represented in the Parliament.