Lebanese government wins confidence vote as protesters clash with police outside parliament

Tear gas wafted through central Beirut where security forces blocked roads leading to the parliament building in the already heavily barricaded downtown area. (File/AFP)
Short Url
Updated 12 February 2020

Lebanese government wins confidence vote as protesters clash with police outside parliament

  • They throw rocks, eggs and paint in attempt to stop MPs holding vote to approve new government
  • Demonstrators are calling for sweeping reforms and an end to a political class they deem as corrupt and incompetent

BEIRUT: The streets of Beirut erupted in fury once more on Tuesday as protesters tried to block members of parliament from holding a vote to approve the government of new Prime Minister Hassan Diab.

Riot police fired tear gas and water cannon, and demonstrators lobbed rocks at security forces and hurled eggs and paint at MPs and ministers as they arrived at parliament.

Protesters tore down walls to use stones as missiles, and set fire to a branch of one of Lebanon’s biggest banks, BLOM. Flames engulfed the building as demonstrators smashed the facade and furniture. At least 370 people were injured in the clashes, and 45 were treated in hospital.

One MP, Salim Saadeh of the Syrian Social National Party, suffered head injuries when protesters smashed up his car. He was treated at the American University Hospital, before returning to parliament to vote with a swelling on his forehead and around his left eye.

Protesters also pelted the cars of ministers Damianos Kattar and Ghazi Wazni with stones and eggs. The Minister of Public Works and Transport, Michel Najjar, traveled to parliament on the pillion seat of a motorcycle.

In the end, the protest failed — the vote of trust in the new government went ahead, with 63 voting in favour, 20 voting against, and one abstention.

Nevertheless, the protesters, many of whom had slept overnight in freezing temperatures in Riad El-Solh and Martyrs Squares, had made their point.

“People are suffering and the government is not listening,” said demonstrator Lama Tabbara, 34. “It takes a long time to uproot an old rotten tree, and that’s what the government represents.”

Another protester, Christopher, 26, said: “We are here to reject Diab’s government and to say that the Lebanese people have no confidence in it — even if MPs vote to support it.”

He said the new ministers may appear to be qualified but they still depended on “the parties that destroyed the country.”

HIGHLIGHTS

• The vote of trust in the new government went ahead, with 63 voting in favour, 20 voting against, and one abstention.

• Lebanon is on the brink of defaulting on its debt and the impact is being felt throughout society.

Lebanon is on the brink of defaulting on its debt and the impact is being felt throughout society, with tough restrictions on cash withdrawals and a de-facto devaluation of the lira.

One placard at Tuesday’s protest carried the sarcastic message: “Of course we are confident — that they will help the banks to the detriment of the people.”

In the past week, Arab News has reported that 40 percent of Lebanese are living below the poverty line, that the figure could rise to 70 percent if the economic crisis is not addressed, and that 7 in 10 educated young Lebanese want to emigrate.

At Tuesday’s parliamentary session, Prime Minister Diab read out the new government’s policy statement urging “painful steps” to deal with the economic crisis, including cutting interest rates and seeking foreign help.


Egyptians largely follow law on wearing masks, some worry about cost

Updated 5 min 28 sec ago

Egyptians largely follow law on wearing masks, some worry about cost

CAIRO: Most Egyptians appear to be following a new law that says they must wear face masks in public, the latest move by the authorities to slow the spread of the coronavirus as reported cases rise.
The law, which came into effect on Saturday, adds to measures including closing airports to international travel, shutting restaurants and suspending school classes.
Those who fail to comply with the rules on masks risk a fine of around $252.
“This was supposed to happen from the very beginning, so that (people) learn discipline and learn the rules. We are a country that needs discipline,” Isis said, standing near a shop in central Cairo and wearing a mask.
Egypt, the Arab world’s most populous country, has registered nearly 25,000 cases of the coronavirus and reported 959 deaths.
Infections rose sharply during the last week marking the end of the Muslim month of Ramadan, when families typically gather for the festivities. A total of 1,536 cases were confirmed on Sunday, double the number on the same day a week ago.
Egypt’s population is overwhelmingly young, but cities are crowded, making it more difficult for people to socially distance.
Reuters witnesses said that police in Cairo were not allowing people inside some banks and metro stations on Sunday and Monday if they were not wearing masks.
“Today people are following the rules. It is good that people are becoming more aware and abiding by this decision ... People today are protecting themselves, protecting their homes, protecting their families,” Adel Othman said through his mask, as he stood in line to enter a bank.
Some people worried that the new rules would add to the financial burden on a population where millions live in poverty.
“I need to spend 30 Egyptian pounds ($1.89) a day to buy masks for my family of six which adds up to 900 pounds a month. My entire salary is 2,200 pounds. How?” said Essam Saeed, an employee at the education directorate in Beni Suef, south of Cairo.
The government said in May that it was going to offer cloth face masks at 5 Egyptian pounds ($0.31) a piece that were viable for use for one month.
Egypt is looking to produce 30 million of the cloth masks a month to meet local demand and will in the coming days produce 8 million as part of an initial trial, the trade minister said in a statement on Sunday. ($1 = 15.8800 Egyptian pounds)