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.


Oman to end lockdown of Muscat governorate on May 29

Updated 27 May 2020

Oman to end lockdown of Muscat governorate on May 29

DUBAI: Oman will on Friday end a lockdown of its Muscat governorate — which includes the capital — that has been in place since April 10 as the sultanate eases its coronavirus containment measures, the state news agency reported on Wednesday.
It said a state committee had also ordered government entities to ensure at least 50% of employees are working from their offices from May 31.