BEIRUT: As Lebanon’s new government gets down to business, MPs’ biggest concern seems to be their own security.
In the wake of violent protests in the past week, Parliamentary Speaker Nabih Berri on Thursday asked Lebanese army chief, Gen. Joseph Aoun, to take “exceptional measures” to protect the parliament’s surroundings.
The plea to beef up security follows clashes outside the Lebanese parliament and the burning of a photograph of new Prime Minister Hassan Diab near the government’s headquarters.
Almost 500 people were injured in Beirut at the weekend after security personnel fired tear gas, water cannons and rubber bullets at demonstrators who threw stones, attempted to invade the Parliament building, and attacked bank offices and shops.
The formation of a new government ends months of political deadlock and economic decline following Saad Hariri’s resignation as prime minister in October in response to mass protests over corruption and mismanagement.
With the country facing growing unrest, the rising levels of violence represent a stern test for the new government as it completes a ministerial handover.
Parliamentary guards were busy this week erecting concrete walls on roads leading to the parliament.
One military official told Arab News that “safe passage” will be restricted to MPs to prevent a repetition of Nov. 19 clashes when protesters blocked access to the parliament.
Parliament is due to meet on Monday and Tuesday to approve a draft budget for 2020.
Shops and businesses facing the parliament’s entrance and access points have borne the brunt of violent protests in recent days.
A manager at a Rolex outlet said: “We haven’t decided to close the shop completely yet. We are living day by day. During the day, everything is normal, there’s traffic and people, but in the afternoon, protesters take over. We hide the merchandise in a safe place, close the shop, and leave. Today, we decided to cover the glass fronts with steel plates so that they won’t be destroyed by protesters.”
Protesters used petrol bombs as well as firecrackers for the first time on Wednesday night, according to security personnel.
Jan Kubis, the UN special coordinator in Lebanon, tweeted that some protesters were attempting to “provoke the security forces, undermine civil peace and fuel sectarian strife.”
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said: “Lebanon will face a terrible financial crisis in the coming weeks. We are ready to intervene and provide support, but only to a government committed to reform.
“This is important to the US, but if you look at the protests taking place in Beirut and in cities outside Beirut, you can see, just like in Baghdad, they are not protesting against America, these are protests calling for sovereignty and freedom. The protests taking place in Lebanon today are to tell Hezbollah: Enough is enough.”
The EU described the formation of the Lebanese government as a “fundamental step toward ensuring the country’s ability to address the multiple crises affecting it.” It also urged the government to implement “structural reforms to answer the needs and the expectations of the Lebanese people. Adequate protection must be ensured for the most vulnerable groups in society.”
Ralph Tarraf, EU envoy to Lebanon, said: “We are ready to positively commit to assisting the government if it implements constructive reforms that can improve the government’s performance.”