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Lebanon protesters block MPs as street battles erupt

A protester waves a Lebanese flag during a protest in Beirut. (Reuters)
A protester waves a Lebanese flag during a protest in Beirut. (Reuters)
20 Nov 2019 04:11:10 GMT9
20 Nov 2019 04:11:10 GMT9

Najia Houssari, Beirut

  • Protesters in Riad Al-Solh and Martyrs’ squares banged metal pots and chanted anti-government slogans

Lebanese protesters set up roadblocks to prevent MPs reaching Parliament on Tuesday, accusing lawmakers of planning legislation that could offer amnesty to corrupt officials.

Amid angry scenes, protesters fought running skirmishes with riot police and formed human shields as they succeeded in shutting down Parliament for a second week.

Protesters took to the streets on Oct. 17 amid widespread anger over tax increases and government corruption, forcing Prime Minister Saad Hariri to resign 12 days later despite backing for the Lebanese leader from President Michel Aoun and Hezbollah.

Since then the country’s powerful political blocs have been reluctant to form a new government of nonpolitical experts, as protesters have demanded. No new prime minister has been selected to form a government.

In order to accept his reappointment to form a government, Hariri stipulated that the new leadership should consist only of technocrats — a key protesters’ demand — while Aoun and his allies insist that the government should be techno-political.

After Tuesday’s clashes outside Parliament, Parliamentary Speaker Nabih Berri said: “The situation is very dangerous. We are facing deadlock in the formation of the government.”

Army and internal security forces were deployed at road junctions leading to the Parliament on Tuesday amid unprecedented control measures.

Security forces established camouflaged corridors to allow deputies access. Hezbollah deputy Ali Ammar arrived on motorcycle after passing through a throng of protesters chanting “thieves.”

MP Mohamed Nasrallah from the Berri bloc also arrived on foot.

Escorts for Finance Minister Ali Hassan Khalil’s convoy fired shots in the air to keep protesters at bay. He managed to reach Parliament, but the shooting angered demonstrators, who hurled rocks at the car.

Protesters tried to remove barbed wire barricades in an attempt to break into Parliament’s perimeter, but were fought back by security forces.

“How can they not hear our demands until now?” shouted one protester, Marwa. “We have been on the street for more than a month and they do not see us. They want to continue exercising power as usual. We will not allow them, even if it leads to our death.”

Protesters in Riad Al-Solh and Martyrs’ squares banged metal pots and chanted anti-government slogans.

“They are thieves and looters of public money. They want to take refuge in a general amnesty law that we will not allow them to pass,” said one.

Some parliamentary blocs decided to boycott the session “out of respect for the will of the people,” MP Dima Jamali said on Twitter.

More than 60 deputies from the Future Movement, Lebanese Forces, Phalange, Marada Movement, former leader Najib Mikati’s bloc and the Democratic Gathering bloc joined the boycott.

With only four deputies present, Secretary-General of the Parliament Adnan Daher announced the postponement of the session after two hours.

MP Nasrallah said the Parliament was “doing its duty to serve the protesters through an agenda of draft laws and proposals to serve the demands of the movement.”

Activist Mahmoud Fakih told Arab News that protesters will continue to push the authorities to set a date for “binding parliamentary consultations to appoint a prime minister and form a national salvation government from technocrats and not from known political faces.”

He said: “The movement is under pressure and may be exposed to more pressure over time,” he said. “We know the authorities may try to turn us against each other. We should be aware of this.”

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