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.


Stranded Lebanese desperate to rebuild after blast

Updated 21 min 22 sec ago

Stranded Lebanese desperate to rebuild after blast

BEIRUT: Sitting amid the debris, Lebanese on Wednesday expressed their frustration at the state for abandoning them in their desperate efforts to rebuild after last week’s catastrophic Beirut port explosion compounded a dire financial crisis.
Lebanon has been plunged into further political uncertainty after the government resigned this week over the Aug. 4 blast that killed at least 171 people, injured some 6,000 and wrecked homes and businesses in large parts of the capital.
International humanitarian aid has poured into the Mediterranean city of some 2 million people and Germany’s foreign minister arrived in Beirut on Wednesday in the latest visit by a foreign dignitary.
But residents said they needed practical help now.
“Who knows what will happen. How will we get back to business,” said Antoinne Matta, 74, whose safe and lock store was heavily damaged by the blast. Five employees were wounded.
“We in Lebanon are used to the government not doing anything.”
Unrest has erupted with Lebanese calling for the wholesale removal of what they see as a corrupt ruling class they brand as responsible for the country’s woes, including an economic meltdown that has ravaged the currency, paralyzed banks and sent prices soaring.
Officials have said the blast could have caused losses of $15 billion, a bill Lebanon cannot pay, given the depths of the financial crisis that has seen people frozen out of their savings accounts since October amid dollar scarcity.
The central bank has instructed local banks to extend exception interest-free dollar loans to individuals and businesses for essential repairs, and that it would in turn provide those financial institutions with the funding.

‘Everything is gone’
Bandali Gharabi, whose photo studio was destroyed, said that so far local authorities had only give him a compensation sheet to fill out. He does not know if the bank will provide financial assistance because he already has a car loan.
“Everything is gone,” he said. “I just want someone to rebuild my shop.”
President Michel Aoun has promised a swift and transparent investigation into the blast at a warehouse where authorities say more than 2,000 tons of ammonium nitrate was stored for years without safety measures. He has said the probe would look into whether it was negligence, an accident or external factors.
Reuters reported that Aoun and Prime Minister Hassan Diab were warned in July about the warehoused ammonium nitrate, according to documents and senior security sources.
The presidency did not respond to requests for comment about the warning letter.
Diab, when announcing his cabinet’s resignation, blamed endemic graft for the explosion, which was the biggest in Beirut’s history.
The World Bank Group said last week it would work with Lebanon’s partners to mobilize public and private financing for reconstruction and recovery. An emergency donor conference on Sunday raised pledges worth nearly 253 million euros ($298 million) for immediate humanitarian relief.
Volunteers and construction workers with bulldozers were still clearing wreckage from neighborhoods more than a week after the blast. Rows of destroyed cars were still parked in front of damaged stores and demolished buildings.
Nagy Massoud, 70, was sitting on the balcony when the blast gutted his apartment. He was saved by a wooden door that protected him from flying debris. A stove injured his wife.
His pension is frozen in a bank account he cannot access due to capital controls prompted by the economic crisis.
“Where is the government,” he said, looking around his shattered apartment.