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.”
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.