Lebanon protesters defiant despite Hezbollah attack

Riot police scuffle with anti-government protesters blocking a road in Beirut. The confrontations began when protesters were attacked by supporters of Hezbollah and Amal. (AP Photo)
Updated 26 November 2019

Lebanon protesters defiant despite Hezbollah attack

  • Protesters called for road blocks and a general strike, but an attack by supporters of Hezbollah and Amal weakened the turnout
  • Demonstrators demanding a complete government overhaul have stayed mobilized since protests began on Oct. 17

BEIRUT: Protesters remained defiant Monday after supporters of Hezbollah and Amal attacked demonstrators overnight, sparking a UN call to keep protests peaceful.
Demonstrators demanding a complete government overhaul have stayed mobilized since protests began on Oct. 17, but a bitterly divided political class has yet to find a way forward.
Frustrated by the stalemate, protesters had called for road blocks and a general strike on Monday, but an attack by supporters of allied parties Hezbollah and Amal on Sunday night weakened the turnout.
Political parties “are trying to instill fear in us as a people, so we don’t progress and stay at home,” said Dany Ayyash, 21, who was blocking a key road in Beirut’s Hamra district.
But “the attack gave us all — at least the ones here right now — a sense of determination,” Ayyash said.
At around midnight on Sunday, backers of Hezbollah and Amal attacked demonstrators at a flyover near the capital’s main protest camp.
Brandishing party flags, they hurled stones at peaceful demonstrators and taunted them as riot police deployed to contain the violence.
The attackers also ravaged a nearby encampment, tearing down tents and damaging storefronts in their most serious assault on protesters so far.
At least 10 demonstrators were injured, civil defense said.
The UN Security Council called for all actors to maintain “the peaceful character of the protests by avoiding violence and respecting the right to peaceful assembly in protest.”
UN Special Coordinator for Lebanon Jan Kubis earlier called for restraint.
“I urge all Lebanese political forces to control their supporters, to avoid using the national protests for pursuing their political agenda,” he tweeted.
The state-run National News Agency said authorities have begun an investigation into the incident.
Parliament speaker Nabih Berri, who heads the Amal Movement, called on security forces to keep roads open to avoid “civil strife.”
On Monday morning, scattered stones, shattered glass and mangled tents littered the main Beirut protest camp at Martyrs’ Square. Nearby car windows had been smashed with rocks.
Security forces tried to disperse protesters in a neighboring Beirut district, and removed other demonstrator barricades deployed in the north and east of the country.
The army detained nine people north of Beirut at dawn after they tried to block roads, but freed them later, the military and the NNA said.
They also arrested four other “rioters,” releasing three shortly afterwards.
The security forces have come under fresh criticism following Sunday’s attack, with protesters accusing them of being lax with Hezbollah and Amal supporters, most of whom were allowed to walk away.
“The thugs throw stones and insult security forces but they don’t confront them,” said Elie, 24, who was among the protesters attacked.
“They don’t arrest them the way they arrest us.”
Such criticism prompted Interior Minister Raya Al-Hasan to say the army and police remain the only “guarantors of the country’s stability.”
Late Monday, hundreds of Hezbollah and Amal supporters rallied in the southern suburbs of the capital after a man and woman were killed in a car accident earlier Monday.
A video of the incident showed a car ramming at high speed into a metal barrier before catching on fire, in an incident both Shiite parties have blamed on a protester roadblock.
The demonstrators however denied any responsibility, publishing a map of their roadblocks on social media.
Political leaders have failed to select a new government nearly a month since Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s cabinet resigned under popular pressure.
President Michel Aoun, whose powers include initiating parliamentary consultations to appoint a new premier, said he was open to a government that would include technocrats and representatives of the popular movement — both key demands of the protesters.
But demonstrators say they reject any government that would also include representatives of established political parties.
The United States, France, the World Bank, and credit rating agencies have all urged officials to accelerate cabinet formation, warning of a deteriorating economic and political crisis.
In the latest diplomatic push, senior British foreign office official Richard Moore was in Lebanon Monday to meet top officials and “underline the urgent need to form a government,” the British embassy said.
“The people of Lebanon have been clear in their demand for improved governance, and they should be heard,” Moore was quoted as saying.


US to announce 4,000-troop drawdown from Afghanistan: media

Updated 15 December 2019

US to announce 4,000-troop drawdown from Afghanistan: media

  • There are 13,000 US troops currently in Afghanistan
  • US President Donald Trump has previously indicated he wants to wind down US military entanglements abroad where possible

WASHINGTON: The Trump administration will announce as early as this week plans to withdraw around 4,000 troops from Afghanistan, US media reported.
Talks between the United States and the Taliban resumed a week ago as the parties sought a path to reduce violence or even reach a cease-fire.
They were paused by Washington on Thursday, however, after an attack by the militant group near a key US air base north of Kabul that left two civilians dead and dozens injured.
There are 13,000 US troops currently in Afghanistan.
NBC on Saturday cited three current and former US officials as saying the Trump administration intends to announce the drawdown of 4,000 troops from Afghanistan.
Two of those said some of the troops would be redeploying early, while others would not be replaced when they end their term.
CNN cited one official in the Trump administration as saying the announcement on a drawdown could happen this week, but that the “timing remains in flux.”
According to a draft agreement from September — reached after years of negotiations — the Taliban would be required to commit to certain security measures, agree to talks with the Afghan government and promise a reduction of violence in exchange for US troop withdrawal.
US President Donald Trump insisted last month on the need for a cease-fire and made a surprise visit to Bagram on November 28 to celebrate Thanksgiving with troops and meet Afghan President Ashraf Ghani.
Trump has previously indicated he wants to wind down US military entanglements abroad where possible.