Nabih Berri calls for steps to save the economy as outgoing PM Hariri and President Aoun indulge in blame game.
Beirut, Lebanon – Protesters demanding an overhaul of the country’s political system have celebrated the postponement of a parliament session, following earlier clashes between riot police and demonstrators.
Waving flags and beating pots and pans in rhythm, hundreds of protesters danced and sang as fireworks were set off over Beirut’s Nejmeh Square on Tuesday.
“Everyone was really happy and shouting, there was just so much energy it was amazing,” said Marina Sbaity. “It’s such a feeling of togetherness that the country is experiencing right now.”
Demonstrators had gathered around the entrances to the square early on Tuesday to form a human barrier in a bid to prevent the session, which, they said, failed to address the demands of Lebanon’s weeks-long protest movement.
Security forces were heavily deployed in the area, with high walls of barbed wire blocking every road leading to Parliament, and lines of riot police five-men deep both behind and in front of the barricades.
Citing “exceptional conditions in particular security conditions,” Adnane Daher, secretary-general of Parliament, said in a statement that the session had been postponed “to a date to be determined later”.
The planned session, which would have been the first since anti-government protests erupted last month, had previously been postponed from November 12 by Nabih Berri, the speaker of Parliament.
Lebanese people have taken to the streets since October 17 to protest against a political elite seen as corrupt and unable to manage the country’s worsening economic crisis.
Hundreds of thousands have taken part in the demonstrations, demanding an end to the country’s confessional political system, where power is shared among religious and ethnic groups. They have called instead for a government of experts to be appointed to tackle the country’s economic deterioration and widen access to basic services.
Among protesters’ concerns on Tuesday was a proposed general amnesty law on the parliamentary agenda, which, they said, would have allowed politicians to escape potential prosecution for corruption.
“They’re trying to pass a general amnesty law for everyone, including them, for their own corruption and illegal acts,” Yara Tabchy told Al Jazeera before the postponement, adding that it would be illegitimate for the current government to pass legislation as it is serving in a caretaker capacity since Prime Minister Saad Hariri and his cabinet resigned on October 29 amid the protests. “It’s unconstitutional,” she said.
A long-promised bill establishing an anti-corruption commission to investigate financial crimes in politics was welcome, protesters said, adding, however, that the measure would be ineffective unless a law guaranteeing the independence of the judiciary was passed first.
Ahmad Fataryi, a 20-year old student, said the postponement was a victory for the protesters.
“They [the government] think they can do anything that we don’t want them to do. But that’s not the case. The power is not for the actual government, it’s for the people,” he told Al Jazeera.
“This [success] means for the future that no matter what, no matter who comes in the government next, no one can stand against us.”
Scuffles break out
Tuesday’s demonstrations were carefully orchestrated, with maps and instructions distributed via social media in advance to show where roadblocks would be most effective.
On Bab Idriss Street, a ministerial convoy was blocked by protesters, who threw plastic bottles and other rubbish at the cars as they tried to reach Parliament. As the vehicles did a U-turn in the middle of the highway, bodyguards fired live ammunition into the air.
Yasmina Hussein Abdullah, 19, from Khayyam in the south and Abdul Rahman Kassar, 20, from Akkar in the north, travelled to Beirut for Tuesday’s protests. They were both beaten with batons by riot police at the entrance to Nejmeh Square just before 9am. Red, swollen welts on their arms rapidly began to bruise as they spoke.
“We were at the front line of the protest, and suddenly they started beating us,” Kassar said. “We weren’t doing anything, we were shouting: ‘We’re peaceful’!” They didn’t look at whether it was a boy or a girl, young or old, they were just hitting everywhere.”
Emergency medics from the Lebanese Red Cross strapped on protective helmets as they darted in and out of the crowd, retrieving injured protesters.
After being treated, many returned to protest; a young man with his head, wrist and calf bandaged and blood matting his hair slowly limped towards the barricade in Riad al-Solh square as another clash began, shouting “thawra!” – or revolution.