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Lebanese security forces on high alert as violent protests continue

A man walks near a burning fire blocking a road, during a protest against mounting economic hardships, in Beirut, Lebanon June 28, 2021. (Reuters)
A man walks near a burning fire blocking a road, during a protest against mounting economic hardships, in Beirut, Lebanon June 28, 2021. (Reuters)
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30 Jun 2021 12:06:58 GMT9
30 Jun 2021 12:06:58 GMT9
  • Protestors beat, injure bank employees in Beirut to force transfers to Turkey
  • President Aoun heads defense council meet as tensions skyrocket in many regions

Najia Houssari

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s Supreme Defense Council has asked the military and security services to stay on high alert to prevent attempts to destabilize the security situation amid the financial and political crises the country is facing.

The council, headed by President Michel Aoun, convened on Tuesday amid protests against the fuel shortage.

Promises to provide fuel after the partial lifting of subsidies have not reduced the public anger nor the never-ending queues at gas stations.

During the meeting, Aoun said that “what happened in front of the gas stations is unacceptable,” stressing that “humiliating citizens is unacceptable under any circumstances, and all concerned parties should work to prevent the recurrence of such scenes.”

Aoun objected to “roads being closed as they cause additional suffering to citizens.”

He said: “Everyone is entitled to their opinion, but it should not turn into chaos and riots, and the security authorities should not be lenient.”

The attempt to contain the chaos coincided with a comprehensive strike carried out by all banks in Lebanon on Tuesday to protest the attack on the headquarters of the Lebanese Swiss Bank on Hamra Street in Beirut.

The bank said that “about a hundred people occupied the bank’s general administration building on Monday and beat the employees, injuring three of them, as they used violence to force managers to make money transfers to Turkey.”

Since November 2019, banks have refrained from making transfers abroad in light of the financial crisis.

The bank’s administration said the attackers belonged to a charity called Baneen, which had demanded the courts approve the transfers, but the Judge of Urgent Matters dismissed the case.

The banks’ association condemned the attack and called on “the competent judicial and security agencies to pursue the perpetrators.”

Meanwhile, street protests continued on Tuesday as citizens blocked roads in different areas to express their anger over dire living conditions and the fuel shortage.

The rush to the gas stations that dared to operate amid the tense climate inspired several brawls.
Protesters destroyed a gas station in the Akkar region due to the owner’s reluctance to sell diesel and petrol, despite not running out, but was waiting to sell the fuel at higher prices.

Fadi Abu Shakra, a representative of the union of fuel distributors and gas stations in Lebanon, told Arab News: “A delegation from the union met the minister of interior in the caretaker government to discuss the security situation at gas stations in light of the many fights that are erupting.

“The minister asked gas station owners to refrain from filling gallons to prevent them from being stored in homes since this poses a danger to citizens, and to only sell small quantities for motorcycle owners to prevent them from selling fuel on the black market.”

Abu Shakra stressed that “fuel will be available to the Lebanese within a few days, as the remaining ships will be unloaded and the quantities delivered after the Banque du Liban began opening credits for ships anchored off the Lebanese coast.”

While covering the long queues in front of a gas station in Beirut’s southern suburbs, a foreign journalist was attacked and detained by Hezbollah on Monday.

In a statement, the Tahalof Watani publication condemned the attack on Matt Kynaston, a correspondent of the Beirut daily, NOW Lebanon, “who was only doing his job,” demanding the security and judicial agencies “pursue the aggressors and punish them as required by justice and to protect the freedom of media professionals, which is guaranteed by the Lebanese Constitution.”

In a similar vein, an investigation session with the anti-Hezbollah cleric, Ali Al-Amin, was postponed.

A case was filed against him by Hezbollah supporters, who accused him of participating in a meeting in Bahrain that was allegedly attended by Israelis.

A sit-in was organized in front of the Palace of Justice in Beirut in solidarity with Al-Amin on Tuesday.

The protesters raised banners saying, “ideas are more powerful than your guns,” and “violent messages do not silence the voice of our freedom.”

Samy Gemayel, the head of Lebanon’s Kataeb Party, expressed his solidarity with Al-Amin “and support for his free and open mind in the face of oppression and close-minded people.”

He added: “We will not accept intimidation, and we will bring down the police state and the militias behind it.”

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