Lebanese leaders ‘trying to buy time,’ warns UN envoy Kubis

Lebanese police clashed with anti-government protesters in Beirut, firing tear gas to prevent them from breaching barricades near Parliament. (AFP)
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Updated 17 December 2019

Lebanese leaders ‘trying to buy time,’ warns UN envoy Kubis

  • Hariri’s office says caretaker PM seeking to avoid adding problems to current crisis

BEIRUT: The UN Special Coordinator for Lebanon Jan Kubis accused Lebanese politicians of “trying to buy time” after crucial parliamentary talks to nominate a replacement prime minister faced a further delay. 

Discussions due to take place on Monday were postponed an hour beforehand amid a widening rift between Lebanese President Michel Aoun and the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) on one side and caretaker PM Saad Hariri on the other.

It is the second time talks over the replacement leadership and composition of the new government have been delayed. 

More than seven weeks after Hariri quit as prime minister, politicians are still unable to agree on a new administration despite the deepening financial crisis facing the country. 

Kubis warned that “with a collapsing economy, buying time to form a government is a risky hazard for politicians, but even more so for Lebanon and its people.”

Plans for parliamentary talks on Monday fell into confusion following the Christian-based Lebanese Forces’ refusal to nominate a new prime minister. The party said that it will only approve “a government of independent experts trusted by the people.”  

Aoun postponed the discussions until Thursday after Hariri asked for “more consultation on the government’s formation.”

Moustafa Allouch, a member of the Future Movement’s political bureau, told Arab News that Hariri is refusing to lead a government without the backing of the Christian vote.

“Hariri doesn’t want to face accusations of lacking a national consensus,” Allouch said.

However, Hariri’s office said that the caretaker PM was seeking “to avoid adding national and constitutional problems to the social, economic and financial crisis in Lebanon.”

Pierre Raffoul, Aoun’s political adviser, launched an unprecedented attack on Hariri, saying the caretaker PM “wants to eliminate everyone.”

“We are not in a dictatorial country and such things do not work here,” he added.

Raffoul said that “if the parliamentary consultations had taken place, Hariri would not have been able to form the government.

“Today, we are standing at a crossroads; to stay or not stay. Our solidarity can save the country, but Hariri wants to work alone and he cannot acknowledge the presence of anyone else,” he said.  

The FPM also called on Hariri to “act swiftly to designate a person to lead the government ... and save the country from its current crisis.”

With no end in sight to the political impasse, street protesters in Beirut have faced intensified violent attacks from armed “infiltrators,” according to Rayya Al-Hassan, caretaker interior minister.  

Activist Ziad Abdel Samad told Arab News that “infiltrators among the protesters are trying to attack the movement, but as long as there is no political solution, we are staying in the streets.”  

Tents in Martyrs’ Square in the capital were set alight during clashes late on Sunday night.

Former PM Fouad Siniora was forced to flee a music concert at the American University of Beirut on Sunday night after students chanting “revolution, revolution!” demanded that he leave.

Siniora tweeted on Monday: “History will prove that I have always worked for the interest of my country. Today, I stand resilient alongside the Lebanese, just like I did in the times of peace, war and revolution.”

Lebanon security forces face off against protesters near parliament building

Updated 2 min 58 sec ago

Lebanon security forces face off against protesters near parliament building

BEIRUT: Security forces in Beirut fired tear gas and used water cannons on Saturday in clashes with protesters armed with tree branches and sign posts near Lebanon’s parliament.
After a lull in largely peaceful protests which broke out across the country in October over the state of the economy, people filled the streets again this week. They are furious at a ruling elite that has steered the country toward its worst economic crisis in decades.
Police wielding batons and firing tear gas have wounded dozens of people at protests in recent days, alarming human rights groups. Anger at the banks — which have curbed people’s access to their savings — boiled over, with protesters smashing bank facades and ATMs on Tuesday night.
Lebanon’s Internal Security Forces said on Saturday that police in Beirut were being “violently and directly” confronted at one of the entrances to the parliament. In a tweet, it called on people to leave the area for their own safety.
Witnesses said they saw young men hurling stones and flower pots toward riot police, while protesters tried to push through an entrance to a heavily barricaded district of central Beirut, which includes the parliament.
Hundreds of protesters marched and chanted against in the political class in other parts of the capital. A large banner at one of the rallies read: “If the people go hungry, they will eat their rulers.”
The unrest, which stemmed from anger at corruption and the rising cost of living, forced Prime Minister Saad Al-Hariri to resign in October. Feuding politicians have since failed to agree a new cabinet or rescue plan.
The Lebanese pound has lost nearly half its value, while dollar shortages have driven up prices and confidence in the banking system has collapsed. (Reporting by Ellen Francis; Editing by Mike Harrison)