10/21/2019, 12.25
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Christians, Sunnis and Shiites demonstrate in anticipation of Hariri's speech

by Pierre Balanian

Demonstrations against government and parliament continue. Hariri's speech is expected at 6 pm today. Christians and Muslims united. Shiites criticize Nabi Berri and Hassan Nasrallah. Police block roads to stop the influx of new protesters; the army frees them.

Beirut (AsiaNews) - "No comment" and "Let's hope": these are the tightlipped comments that some deputies have expressed to AsiaNews before entering the Baabda presidential palace.

They were urgently summoned after four days of popular demonstrations calling for their resignation and an ultimatum of Prime Minister Saad Hariri to find a solution to the country's political and economic crisis. So far nothing has transpired, but it is an open secret: they want to save what cannot be saved.

Since the early hours this morning, an unstoppable flow of the protesting population has been mounting ahead of the expiration of Hariri’s ultimatum. The head of government is due to give a televised speech at 18:00. Police forces, under the command of the Ministry of the Interior, blocked the main entrances to the capital to prevent the rise of popular pressure around the buildings of power.

In a contrary move, the army intervened to open the streets. Officially, they want to prevent clashes between demonstrators; in reality it seems they want to guarantee street demonstrations. From areas on Mount Lebanon, whose access roads are still blocked, Christians have parked cars and are continuing on foot, or on mopeds, or hitchhiking. They want to lend their support to the demonstrations of the inhabitants, mostly Muslim, and those who remained sleeping in the center of the  capital.

"We have not crucified Jesus Christ, nor have we betrayed the Prophet!" [The cops] treat us like Daesh fighters!" Roland Rizk tells AsiaNews.

The protesters are united beyond confessional borders. And all proudly mention the disappearance of one taboo: last night in Nabatiyeh, a largely Shiite area a few kilometers from the border with Israel, people were openly criticizing Nabih Berri, the Shiite parliamentary speaker, 30 years in power . Until then he had been almost deified.

Militians of Amal (the Shiite party) first insulted, then threatened, then attacked Shia protesters accusing them of treason and even hitting women.

Even if still timid, criticism also spread to Hassan Nasrallah, the head of the Hezbollah. Christians do the same, accusing foreign minister Gebran Bassil, the Lebanese Forces of Geagea, president Michel Aoun. The end of confessionalism seems to have arrived.

Everyone is waiting for Hariri's speech in the evening. But already now the protesters have made it known that they want the fall of the government and of the whole parliament. Otherwise they will not leave the square: "Half-measures and false promises are of no use", they say.

The Chief of Staff seems to give time to the government and the people and has set a return to calm for the 27th of this month. Later, perhaps the army will have the last word.

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