Lebanon News

Demonstrators re-energize central Beirut

Lebanese soldiers stand guard as supporters of President Michel Aoun block a road in Baabda, Dec. 1, 2019. (The Daily Star/Mohamad Azakir)

BEIRUT: Downtown Beirut was brought to life once again Sunday night as protesters, including elderly people and children, gathered in Riad al-Solh and Martyrs’ Squares after a stretch of relative quiet following clashes earlier in the week.

Food vendors, artisanal stalls and book stands selling vintage collectibles lined the street leading to Riad al-Solh Square, and areas near Martyrs’ Square and the Azarieh Building parking lot, which hosts an array of tents where discussions were in full swing.

Protesters energetically chanted anti-government slogans at the heart of Riad al-Solh Square.

Yaman Hawi, a student, told The Daily Star that “numbers increased again this weekend as a result of renewed calls for protest.”

Earlier in the day, the Army intervened to de-escalate tensions between protesters - mainly from Sabaa Party - and supporters of President Michel Aoun, as both sides demonstrated near the presidential palace in Baabda.

Dozens were seen running toward protesters, some holding sticks. The Army formed a human chain separating the groups as Aoun’s supporters chanted, “God, Lebanon, Aoun - that’s it.” At least one person was seen with a head wound.

The demonstration in support of Aoun came after a protest near Baabda Palace to demand that the president call for parliamentary consultations, which are constitutionally required to name the person who will form the new government.

Earlier Sunday, hundreds marched toward Martyrs’ Square in the “Sunday of Clarity,” referring to protester demands, to mark the 46th day of the national uprising.

After calls for protests to stress national unity and apply pressure to hasten the formation of a government, dozens gathered in Mathaf, holding olive branches and calling for people to stop warning of a possible civil war.

“We experienced the war. That is why we are aware and against any wars,” one woman said.

The numbers increased as the march started, reaching about 500.

Dozens gathered at the Central Bank in Hamra before marching through Sanayeh to Sodeco, where they met up with protesters coming from Mathaf and continued together to Martyrs’ Square.

Another march was held from Kfar Roummane to the main square in the city of Nabatieh in south Lebanon. People banged plastic bottles and carried Lebanese flags. The Nabatieh march coincided with similar ones in Zahle’s Saadnayel and in Tripoli, where protesters in the northern city held signs demanding the overthrow of the president.

Lebanon has been without an active government since Oct. 29, following the resignation of now caretaker Prime Minister Saad Hariri that brought down the Cabinet.

Nationwide protests that started on Oct. 17 have seen hundreds of thousands take to the streets against rampant corruption and the ruling elite. The Lebanese have demanded an overhaul of the decades-old sectarian political system, the formation of a technocratic government and early parliamentary elections.

Sunday’s protests also addressed the country’s deteriorating economic situation.

In Sidon, demonstrators wearing red jumpsuits and Dali masks - a reference to the Spanish TV series “La Casa de Papel” (Money Heist) - sprayed the locks of exchange shops with red paint and stuck posters on their doors that read, “Those who hold a monopoly on the dollar are corrupt.”

Later in the day, protesters met outside the Central Bank in Sidon.

Dozens also gathered in Akkar in north Lebanon, erecting a large cutout of a closed fist bearing the word “Revolution.”

The original fist symbol was seen towering over Martyrs’ Square in Beirut. Unidentified individuals burned it on the morning of Nov. 22, Lebanon’s Independence Day, but protesters replaced it with a new one the same day.

In Beddawi, also in the north, residents blocked a main road in protest against the detention of three people, including two 17-year-olds, their families said.

Parents of the two minors said they had not been able to contact their children or been told which security force was holding them.

“I just want to know where my boy is,” one of the boys’ fathers said.

Beirut residents Saturday held a march from Verdun to Martyrs’ Square, demanding the quick formation of a new government and reform of the political system.

Protests were also held outside the Central Bank’s headquarters in Beirut and its regional office in Sidon. Two marches also took place in Tripoli, calling for a new government to be formed and in protest against the country’s deteriorating financial situation.

Protesters from Jal al-Dib and Sidon joined fellow demonstrators in the Bisri Valley, spending Saturday night in tents pitched between the trees. They have been camped out in the valley for more than two weeks, in opposition to a controversial dam project that broke ground before the protests began on Oct. 17.

In Aley, a protest tent was partially burned. The Progressive Socialist Party, which is dominant in Aley, denied accusations of involvement in the incident.

Also Saturday, a group of women carrying white roses led a march from Beirut’s “Ring Bridge” to the nearby Al-Khandaq al-Ghamiq neighborhood to call for unity among all Lebanese, regardless of sect or place of residence. The march was held as a “correction” of the violence witnessed in the area last week, one protester told local media.

Supporters of Hezbollah and the Amal Movement clashed with peaceful protesters and security forces on the night of Nov. 24 on the central bridge in an hourslong standoff.

A small group also gathered outside the headquarters of the Delegation of the European Union to Lebanon Saturday, to call for the return of Palestinian and Syrian refugees to their home countries.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on December 02, 2019, on page 2.




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