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)
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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.


Huge blast at Iran-Turkey pipeline halts gas supply

A general view of oil tanks at Turkey's Mediterranean port of Ceyhan, which is run by state-owned Petroleum Pipeline Corporation (BOTAS), near Adana, Turkey, February 19, 2014. (REUTERS)
Updated 24 min 51 sec ago

Huge blast at Iran-Turkey pipeline halts gas supply

  • Kurdish militants from the PKK have occasionally attacked oil and gas pipelines coming from Iraq and Iran

ANKARA: A powerful explosion at a natural gas pipeline that brings gas from Iran to Turkey has halted supply to the country.
Flames caused by the explosion on Tuesday at the eastern border city of Agri were visible from nearby villages.
Iranian officials believe that the explosion near the Gurbulak border gate with Iran was caused by a terrorist attack. Turkish security forces are investigating the cause of the incident.
“The pipeline has exploded several times in the past. It is also likely that the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) has carried out the blast,” Mehdi Jamshidi-Dana, director of National Iranian Gas Co., told Iran’s state news agency IRNA. Turkish border guards left the area as a precautionary measure against the coronavirus pandemic. Jamshidi-Dana implied that the terrorists took advantage of this security vacuum.
Following the blast, a member of the outlawed PKK was killed in an operation carried out by Turkish border units while he was trying to cross into Turkey through Iran.
In early March, Turkish security forces launched another operation to track attackers near the Iranian border after one Turkish customs agent was murdered and several others were wounded by a rocket attack that hit an armored bus carrying customs staff.
Kurdish militants from the PKK have occasionally attacked oil and gas pipelines coming from Iraq and Iran.
The same line was closed over a PKK attack in July 2015, while a subsequent attack in April 2018 was prevented by Turkish security forces.
Turkey is among the few customers of Iranian gas, although Iran’s total natural gas export to Turkey is dropping each year. Turkey imported 7.7 billion cubic meters of gas from Iran in 2019, equivalent to 17 percent of its total gas imports.
The pipeline’s repair works are expected to take about four days before gas exports can resume.
Earlier this month, Turkish-Iranian land and air borders were sealed over the coronavirus outbreak.