BEIRUT: Prime Minister Hassan Diab responded to his government’s political opponents in a tough speech addressing the Lebanese on Saturday night.
As the protests continued and clashes between demonstrators and security forces in the city of Tripoli caused injuries, Diab spoke of “a programmed campaign organized by parties known by name and method of thinking that are not deterred from using any method to shatter the image of others.”
Diab said that his government “has a high percentage of citizens’ confidence, which has disturbed many of those who bet on its failure, and some have tried to invest without any national deterrent by pumping lies and rumors, to prevent the government from removing the rubble under which the secrets of corruption disappear.”
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“Know that we have found many keys from that black structure. There is a lot to discover soon with documents and facts, and this structure will fall on those who hide in its corners,” he said.
Diab said that “the coup attempt fell and all secret and public meetings and orders of internal and joint operations to stop discovering of corruption failed too.”
“They revealed that people’s lives do not concern them and that their aim is to protect themselves.”
Diab said that “the state is not bankrupt, there is financial stumbling, but the country is rich in citizens and its resources.”
#WATCH: Demonstrators in Lebanon organize symbolic funeral in Beirut for “the people,” which the “political class insists on burying,” in a message “to revive the revolutionary movement”https://t.co/4iEiVgUTul pic.twitter.com/ch5t1vvYE9
— Arab News (@arabnews) June 14, 2020
Addressing the people, he said: “Your rights are reserved with the banks and the Bank of Lebanon and the state is the guarantor.”
“There are those who want to go back to before Oct. 17 (the date of protests against the Saad Hariri government) and turn the clock back.”
Diab spoke of “political barriers that stand in the way of his government, but change is definitely coming.”
He said that “the state oppresses its children and youth and deprives them of their rights.”
“When the state weakens, the gangs are strengthened, and when the state retreats, small states appear, and when stability shakes, civil peace collapses, and when accountability stops, corruption prevails,” he said.
“The judiciary does not need to be instructed to move. We insist that the judiciary be independent and impartial. The confrontation is difficult, and I call on the Lebanese to be more patient because the battle with corruption is very fierce, because the corrupt will not give up so easily,” the prime minister said.
Diab said that “opening the airport on July 1 will allow us to restore part of the economic cycle, but what is happening today will increase suffering, and I call on the Lebanese to refrain from distorting the protests in order to cross the ordeal and protect Lebanon.”
The prime minister’s remarks came as the anger of groups of protesters who took to the squares of Beirut and Tripoli turned into deliberate sabotage of public and private property without indicating clear slogans for their movement. The riots led to angry reactions in the two cities.
This prompted former Prime Minister Saad Hariri to warn that “Beirut should not be targeted by anyone. Do not force people to protect their own properties and livelihoods. We will not stand by as spectators while the capital is destroyed.”
Both Amal Movement and Hezbollah later denied any relationship with the saboteurs.
Beirut awoke to painful scenes left by the riots, during which young men who arrived on motorbikes smashed and burned shops, pulled stones off buildings and threw them at security forces, and uprooted traffic signs. Stones and glass fragments covered the squares and the content of the shops were ruined.
The security forces responded to the rioters with tear gas and rubber bullets.
Anger was reignited mid-week with news circulating on social media that the exchange rate of the dollar on the black market had reached 7,000 Lebanese pounds.
On Friday, the government said that the news was incorrect. It took measures to curb the rise of the exchange rate, which exceeded 5,000 Lebanese pounds to the dollar, by requesting the central bank to pump dollars into the market to money changers, starting on Monday, to gradually reduce the exchange rate to 3,200 Lebanese pounds.
Despite the government’s move to stop the collapse of the Lebanese pound, the protests continued in downtown Beirut in the absence of coordination between civil movement groups. Each protesting group seemed to have its own agenda.
The goal of these attacks is to turn public opinion against popular movements, so beware of infiltrators who climb over your demands.
Saad Hariri, Former prime minister of Lebanon
The Lebanese army and internal security forces accompanied the demonstrators, and Prime Minister Diab asked the leaders of the two security establishments to “take appropriate measures to prevent suspicious attacks on public and private property in downtown Beirut.”
In a statement, he said that what had happened in Beirut on Friday night was “unacceptable by all standards.”
Interior Minister Mohammed Fahmi described what happened as a “reprehensible, disgraceful and unacceptable attack.”
The scene of devastation in the heart of Beirut provoked the people and activists of the capital.
Hariri visited the damaged shops and spoke to their owners, one of whom raised a Lebanese flag over his burned shop and wrote under it: “Despite your madness, we love you, Lebanon.”
Hariri said that “those who organized and carried out sabotage and burning attacks in Beirut do not have an iota of the goals and values of the revolution. They are misguided groups drifting behind a cursed plot that seeks sedition and further collapse. The goal of these attacks is to turn public opinion against popular movements, so beware of infiltrators who climb over your demands.”
Hariri accused the Lebanese administration and “its government of ignoring the independence of the judiciary and watching the sabotage of Beirut’s markets, burning its heart and assaulting its role and dignity.”
The Grand Mufti, Sheikh Abdul Latif Derian, blamed the state for what had happened.
He warned: “If the state does not carry out its tasks, the jungle law that is not acceptable to any sane person will prevail, and we will no longer be silent about such actions that violate human morals and threaten security.”
Shop owners in the capital and other cities were busy fortifying the fronts of their shops, fearing that riots in the coming days could reach their stores.
Tony Eid, head of the Beirut Traders Association, told Arab News: “What happened, regardless of its causes, will harm traders and business owners. The commercial flow is built on trust, which has been lost, and people will be afraid to continue their declining business.”
“During the last three months, the percentage of business closure in the Beirut’s Achrafieh district alone reached between 50 percent to 70 percent, so everyone is obsessed with material damage as a result of riots that may take place and they no longer have hopes for the country,” he said.
Eid said: “Merchants are not the ones who stole the country, but rather those who are in power. Merchants put their savings, borrowed and risked to establish their businesses, so what is their fault?”
He said that merchants were now asking the association to help them find solutions “to close their businesses with the least possible harm.”
Riot scenes were repeated in the northern city of Tripoli, and the Al-Nour Square turned into a battlefield.
Some rioters arrived on motorbikes and clashed with soldiers, throwing stones and firecrackers at them. The army responded with rubber bullets and tear gas.
The riots caused 36 injuries in Tripoli and one injury in Beirut.
Tripoli MP Mohammed Kabbara said: “We will not be silent on sabotaging Tripoli, nor will we be silent on the increasing poverty in our city, and we will not be silent on some suspected mercenaries from outside Tripoli who target its reputation, image and economy.”
Hezbollah MP Hassan Fadlallah denounced “violence and attacks on public and private property in Beirut and Tripoli.”
“The true cry of hunger is not to attack others. Rather, it should be directed against the corrupt who looted public money and against the policy of American sabotage of our national economy,” he said.
Hezbollah MP Anwar Jumaa said: “Hezbollah is the only party in Lebanon now that pumps millions of dollars a month into the market, and this contributes to preventing the collapse of Lebanon now and moving the economic cycle.”
Amal Movement MP Ali Bazzi said: “The right of citizens to peacefully demonstrate and express their opinion is constitutionally guaranteed, but attacking public and private property is not different from the damage caused by those who looted and corrupted the country.”