08/09/2020, 15.33
LEBANON
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Quasi civil war scenario: riots, fires, killings

by Pierre Balanian

Violent, anti-Hezbollah groups demonstrated in Place des canons and then seized and sacked the Foreign Ministry. Important and sensitive documents were burnt. Papers were also destroyed at the Environment and Economy ministries. A member of the security service is killed. Prime Minister Hassan Diab calls for early parliamentary elections, echoed by the Maronite patriarch who also wants an international inquiry.

Beirut (AsiaNews) – No respite for Beirut. Despite popular wisdom and young people seeking calm to continue rescue operations, posting messages on WhatsApp chats, some dark hands working in the shadows managed to fill the Place des Canons (Martyrs’ Square) not with peaceful and cheerful protesters, but with violent and destructive people.

This time the "protesters" did not represent every religious or social group, ordinary people, the poor; instead, they came from the ideologically anti-Shia, anti-Hezbollah, anti-Iran, anti-China and anti-Russia half of the country.

Breaking a taboo, for the first time they hung in effigy two dummies representing Hassan Nasrallah, secretary general of Hezbollah, and Nabih Berry, speaker of of the Lebanese Parliament of the past three decades and one of the country’s unchallenged leaders.

Although the new government came into office only recently, after months of protests, and has not yet had time to do much, except for its excellent fight against COVID-19, protesters chanted “Government, resign!”, “We want Beirut disarmed!”, “No to Hezbollah's weapons”.

In fact, all of these demands are clearly partisan political demands, not slogans for social justice and against corruption and hunger.

During clashes between rioters and police, a member of the security forces fell to his death in an elevator shaft in a Beirut hotel because of the protesters.

The violent crowd, made up mainly of young people, also targeted three private lorries provided by the Civil Protection authorities to clear debris and rubble, setting them on fire.

The rioters, gathered around former General Sami Rammah, seized the Foreign Ministry, setting it on fire. The building might have contained evidence useful to determine who was responsible for the explosions. The fire burnt large quantities of other sensitive documents as well.

The Economy and Environment Ministries were also occupied, but not set on fire; however, here too, documents were thrown in the air and onto the streets. Such documents could contain evidence of corruption going as far back as 1992, whose principals the government of Prime Minister Hassan Diab sought to punish.

Many people believe corrupt people are behind the riots, trying to get rid of the evidence of their guilt amid the ongoing chaos in order to ensure their impunity.

Amid the unrest, talk is growing of dividing Lebanon into ethno-religious cantons, an old idea from the time of the civil war (1975-1990) that never went away.

In addition to the death of the member of the security forces, hundreds of people were also injured. Eventually, the military was able to clear the ministries, but damage was done.

Whilst the violent groups gathered in central Beirut, Prime Minister Hassan Diab gave a live televised speech. "The time is not for political controversies,” he said. “We are the government that came from the will of the people, following the protests. Give me two more months”.

"The country is experiencing a tragedy that goes beyond its capabilities," he added. “I promise the Lebanese that I shall find and punish those responsible, whoever they are; they will not be above the law."

Diab said that tomorrow he will ask his cabinet to hold early parliamentary elections. Maronite Patriarch Bechara al-Rahi also called for the government to resign and hold early elections, along with an international inquiry into last Tuesday’s explosions.

Shia leaders have however rejected the last request, calling it a form of neo-colonialism, a desire to put the country under international tutelage.

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