Besieged Lebanon assembly postpones session

Updated November 20, 2019

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Beirut: Smoke rises in the background as people take part in an anti-government protest on Tuesday.—Reuters
Beirut: Smoke rises in the background as people take part in an anti-government protest on Tuesday.—Reuters

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s parliament, besieged by angry protesters on Tuesday, for a second time postponed a session to discuss draft laws which critics charge would let corrupt politicians off the hook.

After a morning of noisy demonstrations outside the chamber, and after several political parties had said they would boycott the session, parliament official Adnane Daher appeared before TV cameras.

“The session has been postponed to a date to be determined later,” he said, citing “exceptional ... security conditions”.

“This is a new achievement for the revolution,” cheered Mohamed Ataya, a 28-year-old demonstrator, vowing that no session would be held “as long as the people control the street”.

From early morning, riot police had faced off with hundreds of noisy demonstrators and sporadic scuffles broke out outside the assembly, where activists tried to block MPs’ convoys.

Warning shots were heard as one convoy passed through the crowd, a broadcast on private LBC television showed. Demonstrators blamed an MP’s bodyguard for firing them. “Revolution, revolution,” chanted the protesters, punching the air with their fists and waving Lebanese flags, in the latest rally in over a month of street protests.

“This parliament is ours,” one woman shouted through a megaphone as others banged pots and pans.

Lebanon has since October 17 been rocked by an unprecedented wave of popular street revolt that have cut across sectarian lines.

What started with protests against a plan to tax online phone calls made through WhatsApp and other applications has turned into a broader popular revolt against the perceived ineptitude and corruption of the entire ruling class.

Amid the crisis the prime minister, Saad Hariri, bowed to street pressure and resigned on October 29, but the parliamentary consultations needed to form a new government have yet to start.

A former finance minister, Mohamad Safadi, who had been considered to replace Hariri, has withdrawn his bid for the post after more protests.

President Michel Aoun — whose powers include initiating parliamentary consultations to appoint a new prime minister — said he was open to a government that would include representatives of the popular movement.

Published in Dawn, November 20th, 2019