‘This is your fault’: UN blasts politicians over Lebanon chaos

1 / 3
Riot police arrest anti-government protesters who were protesting outside a police headquarters on Wednesday night. (AP)
2 / 3
Angry protesters returned to the streets of Lebanon on Tuesday to complain about unemployment and financial meltdown. (AFP)
3 / 3
Above, a Fransa Bank ATM that was painted and damaged by anti-government protesters in Beirut, Lebanon on Wednesday, Jan. 15, 2020. (AP)
Short Url
Updated 16 January 2020

‘This is your fault’: UN blasts politicians over Lebanon chaos

  • 90 injured, 59 arrested as rampaging mobs target banks on night of mayhem in Beirut

BEIRUT: The UN accused Lebanese politicians on Wednesday of standing by while the country descends into chaos, after an overnight rampage by mobs targeting bank buildings in an upmarket area of Beirut.

Security forces fired tear gas outside the central bank to disperse protesters who pelted them with stones and fireworks. One man hurled a car battery at the glass facade of a bank as another hit it with a metal pole. Other smashed security cameras and ATM machines, and wrenched traffic lights and parking meters from the ground.

In five hours of clashes in Hamra, nearly 50 internal security officers and up to 40 protesters were injured, and 59 people were arrested. The violence was the worst since protests against government corruption and financial hardship began in October, and came amid a continuing stalemate and sectarian political squabbling over a new government.

“Another day of confusion around the formation of a government, amid the increasingly angry protests and free-falling economy,” said Jan Kubis, UN special coordinator for Lebanon. 

“Politicians, don’t blame the people, blame yourselves for this dangerous chaos.”

As the protest movement nears the start of its fourth month, banks have become a prime target of demonstrators who accuse them with driving Lebanon toward its worst economic crisis since the 1975-1990 civil war.

Banks have arbitrarily capped the amount of dollars customers can withdraw or transfer abroad. Most have limited withdrawals to about $1,000 a month, and others have imposed even tighter curbs.

“I have been coming here for the past three days and could take only $300 ... we are begging, working 55 years to come and beg at the end,” one woman on Hamra Street said ion Wednesday.

Hamra shopkeeper Mohammad Al-Rayyes said: “I was expecting what happened yesterday. Unfortunately the chaos is because of the politicians.

A security guard at Franasbank, who was off duty on Tuesday night, spoke to Arab News as he watched a new surveillance camera being installed outside the bank. “Even if I were here, what could I have done?” he said.

“The security forces could not face them, they had to use tear gas. This is the first time something like this has happened on Hamra Street. Even in the days of the war, banks operated normally and no one attacked them.”

Passers-by were dumbfounded by the scenes. “What happened aims to make the revolution look bad,” said one, Mohammed. “Those who smashed and assaulted public and private property are not peaceful protesters. This is not how we respond to banking restrictions.”

Another woman described the scene as a “battlefield.” She said: “Destroying private property does not benefit the revolution.”

Saad Hariri, who resigned as prime minister when the protests began but remains as a caretaker, said: “The attack on Hamra Street is unacceptable, and a blot on any party or person justifying or masking it.”

Lebanon president to chair crisis talks over weekend violence

Updated 5 min 43 sec ago

Lebanon president to chair crisis talks over weekend violence

  • The meeting will touch on “security developments” in the country
  • Lebanon has been without a government since outgoing prime minister Saad Hariri resigned on October 29

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s under-fire president is set to meet Monday with top security officials to discuss rare violence over the weekend that left hundreds wounded in the protest-hit country.

Michel Aoun will be joined by the care-taker ministers of the interior and defense as well as the chiefs of the military and security agencies in the early afternoon, his office said in a statement.

The meeting will touch on “security developments” in a country rocked since October 17 by unprecedented protests against a political class deemed incompetent, corrupt and responsible for an ever-deepening economic crisis.

It will also address “measures that need to be taken to preserve peace and stability,” the state-run National News agency (NNA) reported.

Demonstrators at the weekend lobbed stones, firecrackers and street signs at riot police, who fired tear gas and rubber bullets to clear a flashpoint road near parliament.

Over the most violent weekend in three months of street protests, some 530 were wounded on both sides, according to a toll compiled by AFP from figures provided by the Red Cross and Civil Defense.

Lawyers and rights groups have condemned the “excessive” and “brutal” use of force by security forces.

Human Rights Watch accused riot police of “launching tear gas canisters at protesters’ heads, firing rubber bullets in their eyes and attacking people at hospitals and a mosque.”

Internal Security Forces, for their part, have urged demonstrators to abstain from assaulting riot police and damaging public or private property.
Protesters had called for a week of “anger” over the political leadership’s failure to form a new government even as the debt-ridden country sinks deeper into a financial crisis.

Lebanon has been without a government since outgoing prime minister Saad Hariri resigned on October 29 in the face of popular pressure.

Political factions agreed on December 19 to appoint former education minister Hassan Diab as the new premier but have since squabbled over ministerial posts and portfolios.

Protesters have demanded a new government be comprised solely of independent experts, and exclude all established political parties.

The United Nations’ envoy to Lebanon pinned the blame for the violence on politicians.

“Anger of the people is understandable, but it is different from vandalism of political manipulators, that must be stopped,” Jan Kubis wrote on Twitter on Saturday.