Riots break out amid 'yellow vest' protest in Beirut

Riots break out amid 'yellow vest' protest in Beirut
A “yellow vest” protest in Beirut turned violent as police and military beat multiple protesters and a journalist in the streets after riots broke out.
5 min read
24 December, 2018
Riots broke out during Lebanon's first yellow vest protest [Nicholas Frakes]
During Lebanon's first "yellow vest" protest, riots broke out and saw multiple people injured after the police and military attacked them with nightsticks and riot shields with one man being unable to stand and another requiring stitches in his head.

The protest began in Beirut's Martyrs' Square with only a few dozen people in attendance. However, the crowd quickly grew to several hundred as people vented their frustrations towards the government.

The protest was organised after a child was allegedly refused medical attention at a hospital in Tripoli and after Lebanon's Prime Minister Saad Hariri was unable to form a government after seven months.

One of the organisers, Faysal Timrawi, explained that the people are "disgusted" with the government and with the way that the country is currently headed.

He said: "We've been waiting for seven months for them to make our government and they have no sense of responsibility for doing anything. Companies are closing, people are getting poorer, everything is getting worse and, until now, we are talking about need a Sunni [minister] and we've been waiting seven months for nothing. 2018 was the worst year since 20 years ago when it comes to the Lebanese economy.

"That's why we started our movement.

"A small child who didn't have $2,000 to enter the hospital ended up dying at the doors of the hospital, so we made our movement about this as well."

Timrawi later stated that he was disappointed with the government when they failed to form a working cabinet following a statement that there would be one before Christmas.
We've been waiting for seven months for them to make our government and they have no sense of responsibility for doing anything. Companies are closing, people are getting poorer, everything is getting worse
He explained: "We were waiting to make a new government. Like two days ago, they said that it would be a gift for Christmas, and we told them 'Yes, we're going to celebrate this Christmas', but in reality, they are fighting like kids.

"So, we want to help them make their decision and make this government and to tell them that we have needs that they need to accomplish as soon as possible."

The organiser explained that these needs included a decrease in the size of the current 30-minister cabinet and for each cabinet minister to be a specialist in their field, to form a government as soon as possible.

"[While other] people are asking for a decrease in taxes, some others are asking for the medical card to be issued as soon as possible. Some of us are asking for prisoners to be released because we have prisoners who have been arrested for 10 years and have not had a trial yet," he said

"We're asking for everything because we have nothing in Lebanon."

Timrawi said that he did not believe that the government would listen to the protesters today. He said: "They will never listen. As long as we have a religious country, they will only ask for what they need."

One protester expressed anger towards the Lebanese government and argued that they needed to be forced out of power.

They said: "I want the American army to come and get rid of them."

Another protester said that there needs to be an end to political corruption in Lebanon.

"We're going to lose everything," the demonstrator said. 

The protesters soon marched on the Prime Minister's headquarters in Beirut where they were surrounded by police in full riot gear. Soon, the protesters ran in panic as the police started to chase them away once several water bottles were thrown at them.

In response, some protesters tried to fight back.

At least two people were injured with one man requiring stitches in his head after he was hit by the police.

Despite efforts made by several heads of the protest, riots later broke out on Hamra Street with trash bins being lit on fire.

Some members of the police and military chased and attacked protesters in the streets after several water bottles hit one of their cars.

Multiple people were injured with one man unable to stand. Both the Lebanese Civil Defence and Red Cross came and attended to the wounded.

Protesters continued to chant “thawra”, the Arabic word for revolution, and yell at the dozens of military and police forces who had blocked off the street.

The military and police attacked again, hitting people with nightsticks and shoving people with riot shields.

It is currently unknown if anyone was arrested or the exact amount of people injured.

One of the people attacked was Daily Star Lebanon photographer Hasan Shaaban who was covering the protest for his paper.

Another woman was filming the attacks by the military when one soldier tried to hit the phone out of her hand with his nightstick and yelled at her to stop filming.

When asked about the riots, Timrawi said: "We can't accept any riots done by the protesters, especially against shops and citizens. However, we also can't accept that some security forces were too aggressive to protesters and the media."

After the riots calmed down, military and police heads met with several protesters to try to deescalate the situation. After several minutes of discussion, the military, police and protesters all agreed to stop and leave.

According to Timrawi, there are no future protests planned at the moment, but he and his group will meet next week to discuss what their next action should be.

Nicholas Frakes is a freelance journalist who reports from London, the Middle East and North Africa.

Follow him on Twitter: @nic_frakes