Lebanon News

Protests show no sign of letting up despite rain, fatigue

Ring bridge. (The Daily Star/Hasan Shaaban)

BEIRUT: The popular protests that have mobilized hundreds of thousands of Lebanese over the past 12 days showed no signs of letting up Monday despite a dwindling number of participants.

Turnout was lower than on the previous days of the anti-government protests, exacerbated by intermittent downpours throughout the day. Nevertheless, a few dozen protesters braved the elements in Beirut’s Riad al-Solh Square, dancing the traditional dabke dance, clad in plastic ponchos.

“There are fewer in the streets, but the people are still with us,” 25-year-old Amir told The Daily Star.

“I am definitely optimistic, because ... people have realized that they have the power.”

Earlier in the day, a small group of protesters was able to cross the reels of barbed wire that have separated the square from the Grand Serail, the seat of the Lebanese government, since Oct. 19.

They returned to the square shortly after, following the intervention of riot police.

Following the incident, riot police deployed to the area in greater numbers. That in turn encouraged more protesters to make their way to the square, which has been the center of protests in the capital.

Monday marked the 12th consecutive day of mass protests against government corruption and the country’s deteriorating economy. Once again, protesters were creative in their demonstrations, from holding “open discussions” on the future path for the country to launching paper lanterns into the air.

After a slow start in Tripoli’s Al-Nour Square, protester numbers began to pick up in the evening, with hundreds gathering around the iconic, brightly lit sculpture that spells out the word “Allah.”

Protesters held sit-ins in front of branches of the Central Bank in Beirut, Sidon and Nabatieh, calling for the resignation of the bank’s Gov. Riad Salameh and the “fall of the rule of the [Central] Bank.”

The day began with roadblocks across the country, with traffic obstructed by cars, tires and protesters themselves. Clashes between demonstrators and security forces were kept to a minimum, despite expectations that the authorities might attempt to open streets by force following a series of meetings held at the Defense Ministry over the weekend to formulate a plan to reopen roads.

Defense Minister Elias Bou Saab, speaking to local TV station OTV, said that “the Army is present on the roads, but won’t open them by force in order to avoid any clashes with citizens.” He added that “road closures need to be addressed quickly ... and we will have a meeting soon to solve this.”

In the early morning in Sidon, dozens of demonstrators obstructed the city’s main roads, blocking the north and south entrances with burning tires. Protesters also blocked downtown Sidon, preventing workers from reaching their shops. The road leading to Electricite du Liban was blocked, and demonstrators barricaded the doors of the building to prevent employees from entering.

By noon, the Army had forcibly removed the blockade, allowing cars to pass. They arrested, and later released, seven demonstrators who had been blocking the road, the state-run National News Agency reported.

In Nabatieh’s Kfar Roummane, protesters opened the town’s central roundabout after more than a week of blocking it.

“This was not political, we took the joint decision to open it up for the people,” one protester told local TV channel Al Jadeed.

Back in Beirut, dozens of protesters woke up in the open air, having camped out on the “Ring Bridge,” which had been blocked since the previous evening with cars and household furniture.

Protesters were preventing vehicles from passing, only letting official security vehicles, ambulances and people with emergency situations through.

“Our response to police violence is to peacefully set up furniture to block the highway and let them know we’re not going anywhere. We live here now,” protester Sarah Abou Jaoude, 27, told The Daily Star.

“We’re going to stay here as long as it takes to get rid of the politicians and the current system,” Dina, 21, said.

Police presence was prominent in Downtown Beirut, where roads remained closed. The parking lot opposite the Mohammad al-Amine Mosque, which has been occupied by food stalls during the protests, was blocked off by metal barricades, making vendors much less accessible than they were over the weekend.

“This is the first time they have blocked us off like this.

“People can’t get in. The police came and told us that the protests were over and to pack up,” said 21-year-old Ali Nassar, who has set up a stall selling kaak.

Main highways connecting north and south Lebanon to Beirut were also blocked. The entrance of Deir Ammar was choked off with parked cars from the early hours of Monday morning, the state-run National News Agency reported.

The Halba highway was completely blocked with burning tires, while the highway linking Tripoli to Dinnieh was also blocked.

Tension has mounted in recent days between security forces and protesters, who have used road closures as a method of pressuring the government into meeting their demands.

Banks, schools and universities have been shut for more than a week, and businesses paralyzed since unprecedented anti-government street protests erupted on Oct. 17 over worsening economic conditions and corruption. - Additional reporting by Mohammed Zaatari

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on October 29, 2019, on page 1.

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