Lebanon News

Protesters vow to stop MPs going home

BEIRUT: After MPs successfully entered Parliament for a vote of confidence in Prime Minister Hassan Diab's government Tuesday morning, protesters vowed to focus efforts on preventing them getting home.

"Despite all the people who didn't want them to get in, they went in. But now, we're going to stop them getting out," 55-year-old Zeita told The Daily Star.

Demonstrators briefly tried to block a main road connecting the Ring Bridge and the Seaside Road in the afternoon, while others stood or sat in Martyrs' Square, awaiting the end of the Parliament session.

"We are trying to block them from getting back to their homes," said 27-year-old Ibrahim. "We don't want any of these people."

In the early hours of the morning, hundreds of protesters gathered at various points across Downtown Beirut to prevent MPs reaching Parliament.

“We are going to reclaim Downtown,” Ibrahim added.

Environment Minister Damanios Kattar’s car was egged as he passed through the Zoqaq al-Blat neighborhood, and MP Salim Saadeh was taken to hospital after protesters smashed his car window and caused an injury to his face.

Other MPs avoided the protesters by hitching lifts on motorbikes.

Calm was restored to Downtown Beirut by early afternoon after several rounds of clashes with security forces left the air thick with tear gas and the ground strewn with rubble.

According to the Lebanese Red Cross, 45 injured people were taken to hospital and another 328 were treated on site.

Jad Ghorayeb, a Lebanese photographer, was taken to hospital after a rubber bullet fired by security forces wounded him in the mouth, according to the SKeyes media freedom organization.

Human Rights Watch Lebanon Researcher, Aya Majzoub, condemned the force with which riot police and the Army treated those demonstrating.

“While Prime Minister Hassan Diab was talking to a half-empty Parliament hall about the importance of the right to protest, security forces were throwing tear gas and beating people up outside,” she said.

“Lebanon’s authorities should ensure that protesters are able to freely express their opinions, including those deemed critical of the government.”

While protesters were unable to prevent MPs from reaching the quorum needed to hold a vote, they were determined to remain on the streets to make their voices heard.

“We can’t do anything now because they’re already meeting,” a young protester named Maya said. “But we are staying here to put pressure on them and tell them we don’t want this [government.]”

Diab’s 20-member Cabinet has been criticized as one-sided and beholden to establishment political parties. However, it is expected to gain enough support in Parliament to be officially sworn in.

Standing in a small crowd of protesters in front of a line of Army personnel at the edge of Martyrs’ Square, 47-year-old Milad said he was disappointed with a turnout that was unsuccessful in preventing the vote.

“But we have to stay on the streets,” he insisted. “We should not let go.”

Violent clashes took place between protesters and security forces in many areas of Beirut – from Martyrs’ Square and the Ring Bridge to Zoqaq al-Blat and Riad al-Solh Square.

Protesters set the Riad al-Solh branch of BLOM Bank on fire, and pulled down a part of a cement wall erected on a road leading to Parliament. As they dispersed, cranes moved in to restore the cement barriers.

A large number of the day’s confrontations took place near the cement walls, many of which had been erected Monday night.

Protesters threw rocks over the wall outside the upmarket Le Gray hotel, attempting to hit Internal Security Forces and Army personnel stationed on the other side. Security forces responded by firing water cannons and tear gas.

The ISF issued a statement asking those attending the protests to remain peaceful and stay away from the walls and barriers "for their own safety."

Supporters of Nabih Berri's Amal Movement headed towards Zoqaq al-Blat, near the Grand Serail, throwing rocks at demonstrators, who called on security forces to intervene to protect them.

Lebanon’s nationwide protests began on Oct. 17 to demand an end to the sectarian political system, widespread corruption and decades of economic mismanagement. Popular pressure forced Saad Hariri to step down as prime minister on Oct. 29.

While numbers have decreased since the mass rallies that began the uprising, protesters remain determined.

“Just like we brought down Hariri, we’ll bring down the MPs too,” said Mahmoud, a 23-year-old from the Bekaa Valley.

“After all, the country belongs to us.”

 

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