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Mon, 20 Jan 2020 11:56 GMT

Lebanon Street Crisis Escalates, Protesters Blockade Parliament

Politics

7Dnews London

Wed, 20 Nov 2019 19:28 GMT

The massive crisis in Lebanese streets, which has entered its second month amid the failure of the political elite to meet the demands of protesters, has escalated to the extent that demonstrators besieged Parliament on Tuesday November 19th and prevented it from convening.

Parliament announced the postponement of its session, which was scheduled for Tuesday, for another date to be determined, because of the lack of "quorum", amid protesters’ demands to cancel the session and their attempts to prevent the arrival of MPs. 

In an escalation of protests against the ruling elite, whom they accuse of dragging the country towards economic collapse, hundreds of demonstrators gathered on Tuesday morning in the vicinity of the Lebanese parliament, in Nejmeh Square in central Beirut, to protest against the legislative session. 

The protesters closed all the entrances to the building and tried to prevent the arrival of motorcades escorting MPs to parliament. They celebrated their victory, calling it a "new achievement", banging on pots and iron plates and chanting "Revolution, Revolution". 

This is the second postponement of a parliamentary session in a week under pressure from protesters, who are demanding the formation of a government of specialists that does not include any of the current political elites. 

According to website MCD, the protesters objected to the session’s agenda, which included a draft amnesty law to benefit thousands of detainees They consider that the priority should be to form a new government. 

One video showed protesters gathered around MP Georges Atallah and engaging in heated debate with him before he left the gathering amid jeers from protesters, Skynews Arabia reported. Another video showed Hezbollah MP Ali Ammar riding a small motorbike on the way to parliament. 

Other videos showed the attempts of MPs to reach parliament in various ways, including an attempt to run demonstrators over and fire in the air to disperse them, Skynews Arabia said. 

Shots were heard when a group of dozens of protesters forced two SUVs with official license plates and coloured windows to turn back as they approached parliament, according to footage by Lebanese broadcasters, France 24 reported. 

Security forces were deployed on Tuesday before dawn in central Beirut, where roads around parliament were blocked with barbed wire in what proved to be a failed attempt to prevent demonstrators from blocking the session.

Police clashed with a group of demonstrators who were trying to use a cable to remove the barbed wire barrier.

Elsewhere in Lebanon, protesters on Tuesday blocked several roads in northern Lebanon, the Beqaa Valley and parts of Mount Lebanon, amid calls for a general strike. 

Queues lined up for Lebanese banks, which reopened on Tuesday, after a week-long closure as police deployed to branches, and banks tightly restricted foreign currency withdrawals and remittances. 

Banks have been closed most of the time since protests against Lebanon's ruling elite erupted on October 17th. They reopened following a two-week closure on November 1st but closed again a week later due to a strike by employees who complained about threats from clients wanting money. 

Lebanon has been plagued by decades of political and economic crisis due to the failure of successive governments to meet the needs of citizens, who have been demonstrating for more than a month to get "rid of a corrupt ruling elite". Sectarian fragmentation plays a major role in the crisis. 

With stagnant economic growth and capital inflows, the government has faced pressure to curb the huge budget deficit. Thousands have taken to the streets, accusing leaders of corruption and mismanagement of the economy after failing to manage the economic crisis. 

On October 18th, the government withdrew some of its proposals to resolve the crisis and protests continued. On October 29th, Saad Hariri resigned as Prime Minister, despite Hezbollah's opposition. 

Since the resignation of Hariri and his government, the country's powerful political blocs have been reluctant to form a new government of non-political experts, as protesters demanded.  

Instead, after weeks of deliberations in which the economy has slipped further into crisis, the parties proposed a new candidate for prime minister, Mohamed Safadi, the wealthy former finance minister, The New York Times reported. 

However, protesters immediately rejected him, saying he was closely associated with the political class they want to remove from power. 

Lebanese President Michel Aoun said on Tuesday that the new government will be political and include specialists and representatives of the popular movement and that the economic and financial conditions are under control and are being addressed gradually. 

He added that "The goal of not setting the date of parliamentary consultations is to remove obstacles to the formation of the government and facilitate the task of the Prime Minister-designate," expressing his readiness to meet representatives of the protests and achieve their demands. 

Middle East