Opinion

Lebanon’s 9th day of protests witnesses rise in violence

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Lebanese security forces clash with supporters of Hezbollah at Riad Al-Solh square in Beirut on Oct. 25, 2019 on the ninth day of protests against tax increases and official corruption. (AFP)
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Demonstrators stand next to a riot police cordon during ongoing anti-government protests in downtown Beirut, Lebanon, October 25, 2019. (Reuters)
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Lebanese protesters block the main highway linking east and west Beirut by tents, stones and bricks during a protest in Beirut on Friday, Oct. 25, 2019. (AP)
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Anti-government protesters block the main highway linking east and west Beirut by tents, stones and bricks during a protest in Beirut, Lebanon, Friday, Oct. 25, 2019. (AP)
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An anti-government protesters hold flowers and a placard with Arabic that reads "You have put up with the state for 30 years, bear with us for a few days," as the protesters block stones and bricks during a protest in Beirut, Lebanon, Friday, Oct. 25, 2019. (AP)
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Protesters take cover from the rain under a Lebanese national flag as they gather during a demonstration on the seventh day of protest against tax increases and official corruption, in Zouk Mosbeh, north of the Lebanese capital Beirut, on October 23, 2019. (AFP)
Updated 26 October 2019

Lebanon’s 9th day of protests witnesses rise in violence

  • Dressed in plain black t-shirts common to Shiite Hezbollah and Amal movement supporters, the men shouted "we heed your call, Nasrallah"
  • Banks, universities and schools remained closed on Friday

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s ninth day of anti-government protests witnessed a change in pace as clashes erupted between Hezbollah supporters, protestors and riot police, before and after the group’s Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah’s speech.

Several people were injured as both sides hurled projectiles at one another. It was a dramatic shift from the morning, when people in Beirut’s Martyrs Square and Riad Al-Solh calmly set up stands of Lebanese merchandise, and vendors prepared their food offerings.

Riot police were forced to intervene between both sides in an attempt to deter the projectiles following Nasrallah’s speech — which was decried as similar to an earlier address given by Prime Minister Saad Hariri.

“They’re all the same: Hariri, Nasrallah, Aoun, Bassil,” Alaa Mortada, one of the protestors, told Arab News.

“Look at what they’re doing. Aren’t we all Lebanese? This is why we need to remove religion from politics,” he added.

 

Nasrallah continued to throw his weight behind the Hariri government, claiming that the protests were an “achievement” since they pushed the government to announce a budget with no tax.

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“We don’t accept toppling the presidency, we also don’t back government resignation,” he said, adding: “Lebanon has entered a dangerous phase, there are prospects that our country will be politically targeted by international, regional powers.”

He ended the speech by urging his supporters to leave the protests. Several arrests were made following the clashes.

Similar scuffles broke out on Thursday night at the same site in central Beirut.

Following the scuffles more riot police with masks and batons were dispatched to the square to defuse the situation, which appeared to be growing more tense.

The demonstrators, who have thronged towns and cities across Lebanon prompting the closure of banks and schools, have been demanding the removal of the entire political class, accusing it of systematic corruption.

Numbers have declined since Sunday, when hundreds of thousands took over Beirut and other cities in the largest demonstrations in years, but could grow again over the weekend.

Lebanon’s largely sectarian political parties have been wrong-footed by the cross-communal nature of the demonstrations, which have drawn Christians and Muslims, Shiite, Sunni and Druze.

Waving Lebanese national flags rather than the partisan colors normally paraded at demonstrations, protesters have been demanding the resignation of all of Lebanon’s political leaders.




Volunteers clear trash in a mass clean-up in central Beirut on Friday, October 25, 2019. (AFP)

In attempts to calm the anger, Prime Minister Saad Hariri has pushed through a package of economic reforms, while President Michel Aoun offered Thursday to meet with representatives of the demonstrators to discuss their demands.

But those measures have been given short shrift by demonstrators, many of whom want the government to resign to pave the way for new elections.

“We want to stay on the street to realize our demands and improve the country,” one protester, who asked to be identified only by his first name Essam, said.

“We want the regime to fall ... The people are hungry and there is no other solution in front of us,” said Essam, a 30-year-old health administrator.

On Friday morning, protesters again cut some of Beirut’s main highways, including the road to the airport and the coast road toward second city Tripoli and the north.

On the motorway north of Beirut, demonstrators had erected tents and stalls in the center of the carriageway.

But there was no sign of any move by the army to try to reopen the road.

In central Beirut, where street parties have gone on into the early hours, groups of volunteers again gathered to collect the trash.

“We are on the street to help clean up and clean up the country,” volunteer Ahmed Assi said.

“We will take part in the afternoon to find out what the next stage will be,” said the 30-year-old, who works at a clothing company.

Lebanon’s Al-Akhbar newspaper, which is close to Hezbollah, headlined its front page “Risk of chaos,” saying the movement had pledged to work to reopen blocked roads.

Hezbollah maintains a large, well-disciplined military wing.

Fares Al-Halabi, a 27-year-old activist and researcher at a non-governmental organization, said that “the Lebanese parties are trying to penetrate the demonstrations and put pressure on them or split them.”

Lebanon endured a devastating civil war that ended in 1990 and many of its current political leaders are former commanders of wartime militias, most of them recruited on sectarian lines.

Persistent deadlock between the rival faction leaders has stymied efforts to tackle the deteriorating economy, while the eight-year civil war in neighboring Syria has compounded the crisis.

More than a quarter of Lebanon’s population lives in poverty, according to the World Bank.

The post-war political system was supposed to balance the competing interests of Lebanon’s myriad sects but its effect has been to entrench power and influence along sectarian lines.

— With input from Reuters


Pope appears to give thumbs down to Trump’s Middle East peace plan

Updated 23 February 2020

Pope appears to give thumbs down to Trump’s Middle East peace plan

  • Francis made his comments in the southern Italian port city of Bari
  • The Palestinians and Arab League foreign ministers have rejected the plan

BARI, Italy: Pope Francis on Sunday warned against “inequitable solutions” to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, saying they would only be a prelude to new crises, in an apparent reference to US President Donald Trump’s Middle East peace proposal.
Francis made his comments in the southern Italian port city of Bari, where he traveled to conclude a meeting of bishops from all countries in the Mediterranean basin.
“The Mediterranean region is currently threatened by outbreaks of instability and conflict, both in the Middle East and different countries of North Africa, as well as between various ethnic, religious or confessional groups,” Francis said.
“Nor can we overlook the still unresolved conflict between Israelis and Palestinians, with the danger of inequitable solutions and, hence, a prelude to new crises,” he said.
The participants included Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa, the head of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, whose jurisdiction includes Israel, the Palestinian territories and Jordan.
It was believed to be the first time the pope, who has often defended both Palestinian rights and Israel’s need for security, has spoken in public about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict since Trump announced the plan on Jan. 28.
The plan would recognize Israel’s authority over West Bank Jewish settlements and require Palestinians meet a series of conditions for a state, with its capital in a West Bank village east of Jerusalem.
Although Trump’s stated aim was to end decades of conflict, his plan favored Israel, underlined by the Palestinians’ absence from his White House announcement with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at his side.
The Palestinians and Arab League foreign ministers have rejected the plan and the Palestinian Authority has cut all ties with the United States and Israel.
Palestinians, with broad international backing, want East Jerusalem as the capital of a future independent state, while Israel views the whole city its “united and eternal” capital.
The pope expressed concern in 2018 when the United States announced the moving of its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, saying the city’s “status quo” should be respected. Francis has called for all to honor UN resolutions on the city.
“There is no reasonable alternative to peace, because every attempt at exploitation or supremacy demeans both its author and its target. It shows a myopic grasp of reality, since it can offer no future to either of the two,” Francis said, speaking in general about the Middle East.
Francis again warned against populist politicians who he said used “demagogic terms” such as “invasion” when talking of migration.
“To be sure, acceptance and a dignified integration are stages in a process that is not easy. Yet it is unthinkable that we can address the problem by putting up walls,” he said.