Hundreds march in Lebanon to mark year of protests

18 Oct 2020

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Lebanese protesters walk towards the central bank during a demonstration, marking the first anniversary of a non-sectarian protest movement in the capital Beirut’s downtown area on Saturday. — AFP
Lebanese protesters walk towards the central bank during a demonstration, marking the first anniversary of a non-sectarian protest movement in the capital Beirut’s downtown area on Saturday. — AFP

BEIRUT: Hundreds marched in Lebanon’s capital on Saturday to mark the first anniversary of a non-sectarian protest movement that has rocked the political elite but has yet to achieve its goal of sweeping reform.

A whirlwind of hope and despair has gripped the country in the year since protests began, as an economic crisis and a devastating Aug 4 port explosion pushed Lebanon deeper into decay.

Two governments have resigned since the movement started but the country’s barons, many of them warlords from the 1975-90 civil war, remain firmly in power despite international as well as domestic pressure for change.

On Saturday, hundreds of people brandishing placards and Lebanese flags gathered in Martyrs’ Square in the heart of Beirut in a scene reminiscent of last year’s rallies.

Passing through the Hamra district, they marched towards the port — the site of August’s devastating explosion, which has been widely blamed on the corruption and incompetence of the hereditary elite.

There they will hold a candlelit vigil near ground zero at 6:07pm, the precise time when a huge stockpile of ammonium nitrate fertiliser exploded, killing more than 200 people and devastating swathes of the capital.

Activists have installed a metallic monument at the site to mark the anniversary of their October 17 “revolution”.

“For a year, we have been on the streets ... and nothing has changed,” said Abed Sabbagh, a protester in his seventies.

“Our demand is the removal of a corrupt political class that continues to compete for posts and seats” despite everything happening in the country, he said from Beirut’s main protest camp.

Published in Dawn, October 18th, 2020