Lebanon News

Protesters demand friends’ release, slam Safadi’s selection

People cheer as Samer Mazeh and Ali Bassal are released from police custody in Beirut, Nov. 15, 2019. (The Daily Star/Hasan Shaaban)

BEIRUT: Politicians’ agreement to name a new prime minister did little to curtail Lebanon’s nationwide demonstrations Friday on its 30th day, with protesters demanding the government’s resignation and the formation of a technocratic Cabinet. Friends and family demanded the release of those detained, as a man who had allegedly been beaten by the Army showed severe bruising.

The Army took a more aggressive posture Thursday night, clashing with and arresting protesters as politicians agreed on a deal to name a new prime minister. Three senior sources confirmed to The Daily Star late Thursday the deal to name former Minister Mohammad Safadi.

Speaking from the hospital, Fadi Nader said soldiers beat him Thursday night near Jal al-Dib.

“Army personnel beat me with sticks. I ran away and fell before around 20 soldiers beat me with their rifle butts and sticks,” Nader said in televised remarks.

Videos circulating online showed Nader unconscious on the side of the road with bruises covering his chest. Speaking from hospital Friday, Nader stood up and showed his back, covered in bruises, to the cameras.

At Beirut’s “Ring Bridge,” the Army reportedly arrested Samer Mazeh and Ali Basal. They were then transferred and eventually released from Gemmayzeh’s police station Friday where they were greeted by droves of supporters.

Family and friends of Mazeh and Basal gathered outside the Beirut Justice Palace and the Gemmayzeh police station on the rainy Friday, demanding their release.

“One person from a group of Army Intelligence, wearing civilian clothes, approached Samer and initiated a scuffle. ... Ali Basal, [Mazeh’s] friend, intervened. We tried to stop them [from arresting Basal and Mazeh] but we couldn’t,” one of Mazeh’s friends said from outside the Justice Palace.

Outside Kesrouan’s Sarba barracks, a number of protesters gathered Friday morning to ask about the fate of people arrested overnight.

Local TV channel MTV reported that the Army asked the protesters to move and eventually forced them away from the barracks, denying the station permission to film. The Army has also been forcibly denying media outlets and individuals the ability to film as they open roads.

“I was filming what happened and they broke my phone,” one protester said outside the barracks.

Another said he was looking for his friend, Paul Abou Hamad, one of those believed to have been arrested overnight in Jal al-Dib. “People were treated so violently they should be taken to a hospital, not to the barracks,” another protester said.

The Army released a statement Friday evening alleging that protesters “subjected soldiers to provocative statements and attempted to attack them,” which led to the arrest of 20 individuals who were then referred for investigation.

It said nine of them had since been released and seven held for investigation. Four, including a Syrian, were referred to the military police after they were “found to be involved in other offenses.”

The Daily Star could not reach the Army for comment.

The announcement of Safadi the night before enraged protesters, bringing them back to the streets after the Army had opened most of the roads earlier in the day.

Protesters descended on Jal al-Dib and the “Ring Bridge,” among other locations, before soldiers arrived to reopen the roads.

Most were opened Friday.

Footfall in Downtown Beirut remained sparse for most of the day as heavy rain fell in the city. Some still gathered in tents in Martyrs’ Square to discuss the unfolding events.

“I’m from Tripoli and I don’t accept Safadi as a nominee. None of us do, not in Tripoli and not in Lebanon” said Ahmad Ojeij, 50.

“What has he done for this country? We want a prime minister who is not corrupt who won’t take from us, one who represents all the people, not one who was picked by politicians and their sects,” he said.

Despite persistent rain Friday evening, dozens gathered in front of Safadi’s residence in Beirut’s Clemenceau with their umbrellas to protest his nomination.

“Safadi shouldn’t dream of it. His file is tainted. The people won’t accept it,” a protester told Lebanese media in front of the former minister’s house. “They either think we’re stupid or that we’re not going to do anything. The people do not accept Safadi,” another said.

The highway remained blocked at Bohssas, near Tripoli. Many roads in Zahle and across the Bekaa Valley were blocked.

Nationwide protests broke out on Oct. 17, with hundreds of thousands taking to the streets to vent their anger at what many see as a corrupt ruling class. Saad Hariri resigned as prime minister on Oct. 29, bringing down the government with him.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on November 16, 2019, on page 3.

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