SUN 12 - 7 - 2020
Date: Nov 12, 2019
Source: The Daily Star
Lebanon: Nationwide strike as protesters block roads
Berri postpones Parliament session amid mounting backlash
BEIRUT: Protesters Tuesday returned to blocking roads and closed off state institutions as part of their call for a nationwide strike.

Banks, schools and universities closed their doors as protesters and students took to the streets on the 27th day of the uprising.

The southern entrance of Tripoli at Bohssas was blocked off by burning tires and dirt. Other roads in north Lebanon’s Akkar, Abdeh, Minyeh, Deir Ammar and Bekaa’s Qubb Elias were also blocked, according to the Traffic Management Center.

In Beirut, the Charles Helou road and the “Ring Bridge” were briefly cut off early hours Tuesday.

Protesters also gathered outside the Justice Palace and Justice Ministry in Beirut’s Adlieh. They briefly blocked the road before gathering outside the nearby Bar Association, leading to a scuffle between one of the lawyers and some of the protesters.

Students, who have been playing an important role in the uprising and in leading protests, protested Tuesday outside the Education Ministry in Verdun.

Moving south to Sidon, protesters blocked the entrances of the state-run Electricite du Liban and telecoms company Ogero.

A nationwide uprising that started on Oct. 17 saw hundreds of thousands take to the streets to protest against the ruling class and rampant state corruption.

Saad Hariri resigned from his post as prime minister Oct. 29, bringing down the government.

Protesters have since criticized President Michel Aoun’s delay in calling for binding parliamentary consultations, which are constitutionally necessary to name a person to form the new government.

Deja vu: Lebanon to return to protest shutdown

Ghada Alsharif & Emily Lewis| The Daily Star
BEIRUT: Lebanon appears set to return to full-scale paralysis Tuesday, with calls for banks, schools and universities to close, and protesters vowing to block roads nationwide. Thousands of protesters Monday filled squares and streets across the country on the 26th day of the mass uprising against corruption and the ruling elite, gathering in cities from north to south, including Tripoli, Tyre and Nabatieh.

Hundreds remained camped out in front of Electricite du Liban’s Beirut headquarters Monday evening, many having slept in tents the night before. Around the perimeter of the Mar Mikhael building, protesters hung a black fabric screen, lit candles and held discussions on the future of the country.

Those who had woken up outside EDL Monday vowed to block the streets surrounding the building for 24 hours, to symbolize the state-run company’s failure to provide 24-hour power. Protesters said that after completing a full day in front of EDL’s headquarters, they would target another EDL building Tuesday.

The electricity sector is at the core of the state’s financial crisis, hemorrhaging up to $2 billion annually. Yet round-the-clock electricity remains stubbornly elusive.

Beirut suffers power cuts of an average three hours per day, a figure that rises to 12 hours outside the capital. To bridge this electricity deficit, Lebanon relies on expensive and highly polluting diesel generators.

“They’ve made a lot of promises, but we’ve seen nothing,” a protester lying in a hammock told local media early Monday morning.

Tensions were expected to come to a head Tuesday with protesters calling for Lebanese to take action to prevent a legislative session scheduled to take place in Parliament. But Speaker Nabih Berri announced Monday afternoon that the session had been postponed for security reasons.

Berri’s announcement follows growing opposition to the session, with critics asserting that it is unconstitutional and fails to respond to the demands of protesters.

Mariam Abdallah, 18, told The Daily Star that the decision was not a positive one. “We want things to happen as quickly as possible. The country doesn’t have time. We’re on the brink of economic collapse. We want them to leave ... They postponed this for their own benefit,” she said.

“This has nothing to do with security. The decision to cancel the session is purely political. Next week, pressure from protesters will probably decrease and that’s what these politicians are banking on. That’s why they’re postponing this, for their own benefit and to buy time,” said Waleed, a university student.

Protesters Monday evening said that they were committed to closing roads Tuesday, and the country is set to return to the shutdown that dominated for the first two weeks of protests.

The Association of Banks in Lebanon announced that banks would remain closed, following the announcement of a strike by staff members. Caretaker Education Minister Akram Chehayeb also said that schools, universities and educational institutions should suspend classes Tuesday. He said he had made the decision “in the interest of preserving students’ safety, and with respect to their rights to democratic expression.”

Demonstrations picked up in front of the Central Bank’s Beirut headquarters as the day progressed.

There, protesters tried to break down a hoarding that prevented access to the building and enter the courtyard calling “Thief, thief, Riad Salameh is a thief” in reference to the Central Bank’s governor.

In Tripoli’s Al-Nour Square, protesters massed in their thousands once again Monday evening. Thousands more gathered in the Bekaa town of Chtoura, waving flags and singing protest songs.

Numbers in Beirut were low to begin with, but a crowd began to build in Martyrs’ Square by 6 p.m., congregating around a giant print-out of the Lebanese flag, on which protesters wrote messages of support and revolution. The nearby Riad al-Solh Square saw a few hundred gather, dancing the traditional dabke in front of the Grand Serail, the seat of the Lebanese government.

Students massed in front of Holy Spirit University of Kaslik, blocking the entrance and forcing all classes to stop for the day.

In Sidon, 30 fishing boats were launched from the port in a demonstration for the rights of fishermen and to support regulation of the fishing sector to preserve fisheries.

The nationwide uprising has seen hundreds of thousands take to the streets since Oct. 17, in protest against state corruption and official incompetence in dealing with the country’s dire economic situation.

Protesters demanded the resignation of the government - a demand that was met on Oct. 29, when Saad Hariri stepped down from his post as premier, bringing down the government with him. Demonstrators have also demanded the immediate formation of a technocratic government, early parliamentary elections and the early end of President Michel Aoun’s term, in addition to holding corrupt officials accountable and the return of “looted public funds.” - Additional reporting by Mohammed Zaatari

Berri postpones Parliament session amid mounting backlash

Nick Newsom| The Daily Star
BEIRUT: Speaker Nabih Berri announced Monday afternoon that the legislative session in Parliament, planned for Tuesday, has been postponed to Nov. 19 for security reasons.

Berri’s announcement follows growing opposition to the session taking place, with critics asserting that it is unconstitutional and fails to respond to the demands of protesters.

The session had been scheduled by Berri, so that lawmakers could vote on draft laws related to corruption, a general amnesty and pensions. Another parliamentary session to elect committee members had also been scheduled to take place Tuesday.

MP Alain Aoun, part of the parliamentary leadership, confirmed to The Daily Star that both sessions have been postponed.

Berri denied that opposition to the legislative session had anything to do with the draft amnesty law or any other proposed law, claiming that the purpose of the “campaign” against it was to “maintain the current political vacuum.” He called for the formation of a government including protesters and said that the same agenda would be used when lawmakers meet on Nov. 19.

The session’s agenda drew widespread criticism, after it was leaked on social media. Suspicious of the items tabled for discussion, activists and protesters called for a general strike. They also circulated images online suggesting that roads leading to Parliament be blocked and that MPs be held in session until they respond to the demands of protesters.

Hours before Berri’s announcement, Sidon MP Osama Saad added to pressure for the legislative session's cancellation, declaring that he would not attend.

“The [session's] agenda is incompatible with what is currently happening in this country and the delicate circumstances. Therefore, I announce my boycotting of the parliamentary session tomorrow,” he said in a televised press conference.

Saad added that the authorities had lost the trust of protesters, and called for the creation of a “transitional government that represents the uprising and protects its program of recovery and change.”

Independent MP Paula Yacoubian had similarly announced Sunday her intention to boycott the legislative session. Speaking in a pre-recorded video, the MP branded the amnesty law a "trap" that would divide the street, and emphasized the need for an independent judiciary.

According to the NGO Legal Agenda, Tuesday’s planned parliamentary session failed in several ways to respond to the primary demands of protesters.

For instance, its agenda included no discussion of measures needed to address the financial and economic crisis, such as the introduction of capital controls.

It included no mention of draft laws that would guarantee the independence of the judiciary, instead proposing the creation of an exceptional, non-independent court.

It also contained no item for the discussion of the reform of government oversight bodies, such as the Central Inspection Bureau, or the Tenders Department.

A number of prominent figures said the call for the legislative session was unconstitutional.

Maroun Khreish, head of the National Commission for Veterans, called upon lawmakers not to attend, citing the session's lack of legal basis and branding the agenda “suspicious” in a statement carried Monday by the state-run National News Agency.

Legal Agenda’s founder, Nizar Saghieh, also said that the session would be unconstitutional, explaining on Twitter that lawmakers must first study and pass the 2019 budget before proceeding with new legislation.

The inclusion of the draft amnesty law on the agenda courted the most controversy. Protesters and experts say it will allow politicians to exempt themselves from a large number of crimes they are alleged to have committed.

Speaking at a news conference Monday morning, a spokesperson for Legal Agenda said that the creation of an independent judiciary should be a prerequisite of issuing a general amnesty law. “There must be reforms that accompany the amnesty,” he said. “We don’t see any such reform.”

Development and Liberation bloc MP Yassine Jaber, who added the amnesty law to the legislative session’s agenda, distanced himself from it Monday in a statement released by his press office. He said that the law had been prepared by a committee formed by Cabinet under Caretaker Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s leadership. Following the government’s resignation, the Cabinet Secretariat sent the draft amnesty law to Parliament, hoping that it might be adopted from their end. Jaber clarified to The Daily Star than he and MP Mikhael Moussa added it to the legislative session’s agenda as a “favor,” even though neither MP had any involvement in its drafting.

Jaber also downplayed fears that the bill would pardon politicians for any wrongdoing they may have committed.

“In my reading of the amnesty law, it has no relation to financial crimes and does not pardon anyone with past or future financial charges,” he said. “At the end of the day, those responsible for defending it are the ministers on the ministerial committee that formulated it. I am not attached to this law.”

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