Lebanon protests turn violent as army removes road-blocking demonstrators

Lebanon protests turn violent as army removes road-blocking demonstrators
3 min read
23 October, 2019
Lebanon remains on lockdown despite the army attempting to break up human roadblocks on the country's key highways as the protests enter their seventh day.
Soldiers attempt to remove protesters from Jal al-Dib, north of Beirut, on Wednesday [Getty]
Mass anti-government protests in Lebanon risked turning violent as they continued into their seventh day on Wednesday, with reports that protesters across the country have been attacked by the armed forces after forming human roadblocks on key thoroughfares across the country.

A video published on social media showed soldiers forcefully removing protesters from the Nahr al-Kalb highway, which links Beirut and the north of the country, with "many people" arrested, according to Lebanon’s Daily Star newspaper.

Protesters captured in the video shout "peaceful, peaceful" as they are grabbed by soldiers and pushed off the road.

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One protester fainted at the sit-in on the motorway, according to Lebanon's Al-Jadeed news.

Footage also emerged of the army assaulting protests in Saida, downtown Beirut, Jal al-Dib, Zouk Mosbeh, Ghazieh and Batroun.

A video clip from Ghazieh in southern Lebanon showed dozens of soldiers, some in riot gear, advancing on protesters, threatening them with batons raised.

The number of protesters on Thursday was estimated to be in the thousands, with MPs including Sami Gemayel and Elias Hankash of the Christian Maronite Kataeb party, and businessman and MP for Kesrouan, Neemat Frem, also present.

In spite of the clips evidencing the army's use of force against protesters, the official army Twitter account tweeted on Wednesday: "Our soldiers are deployed around the clock to escort your peaceful movement and protect you at this delicate stage".

The incidents of violence contrast with viral clips of crying soldiers standing guard by Wednesday's demonstrations, in a seeming gesture of solidarity with the protesters' aims.

A proposed tax on mobile messaging applications last week sparked a spontaneous, cross-sectarian mobilisation that has brought Lebanon to a standstill and united the people against its hereditary, ruling elite.

The protests, which call for the resignation of the government, show no sign of abating despite the government's adoption of an emergency economic rescue plan which includes a programme of privatisations, a decision to scrap new tax hikes and halving the generous salaries of ministers and lawmakers.

Lebanon's Christian leaders also gathered on Wednesday to discuss the political turmoil, after which Maronite Patriarch Bechara Boutros al-Rahi told Lebanese television the government reform package was a good first step, however he reiterated the need for a new government.

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Prime Minister Saad Hariri met with the Chairman of Association of Banks in Lebanon Salim Sfeir and the Central Bank Governor Riad Salameh on Wednesday to discuss further financial reforms.

Lebanon's banks remained closed for the fifth working day in a row on Wednesday, amid uncertainty over how Hariri planned to shore up the billions of dollars needed to implement the financial reforms.

Both banks and the political class have been objects of protesters' anger, with dozens of demonstrators on Monday night having gathered in front of the central bank in Beirut, accusing Riad Salameh of worsening the country's debt through faulty monetary policies.

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