Lebanese protesters vowed on Wednesday to keep pushing for an overhaul of the countrys politics, a day after violence rocked Beirut as riot police clashed with demonstrators who prevented lawmakers from reaching parliament.
Tuesday began and ended with violence in downtown Beirut as anti-government protesters blocked off parliament to prevent MPs from holding a controversial meeting.
Riot police beat protesters with batons and threw several to the ground in repeated clashes throughout the morning.
Demonstrators blocked roads around the parliament building in the heart of the capital from 6am local time (4am GMT), facing off against heavy deployments of armed riot police and soldiers.
New barbed-wire barricades had been installed in anticipation of Tuesdays protests, and security forces lined up five-men-deep with batons and shields at every entrance to Nejmeh Square, where parliament sits.
Just after 11am when the session was due to start, the secretary-general of parliament, Adnane Daher, issued a statement saying it would be postponed, citing "exceptional conditions, in particular security conditions".
Protesters cheered the announcement, setting off fireworks over the square and singing and dancing as they banged pots, pans and metal barricades.
“Its a big deal for us that we won,” said Claudia Channice, a young mother who had camped out near parliament on Monday night to be ready to block roads early the next morning.
“I was so happy and so overwhelmed. For the first time, Im proud to be Lebanese.”
“They wanted to do this session badly but they couldnt because we stopped them,” she added. “For the first time we feel that were really strong, we can make the change. Its for our kids, because I dont want my kids to hate Lebanon.”
Government at an impasse
Protesters have been taking to the streets for more than a month, calling for the downfall of a government they call corrupt and unrepresentative, and for a complete overhaul of the existing political class.
Just five of 128 MPs succeeded in reaching parliament for the meeting, according to local media inside the building. Another 53 MPs decided to boycott the session, citing protesters demands.
Protesters were angry that the sessions agenda did not include the nomination of a new prime minister, more than three weeks after caretaker premier Saad Hariri resigned.
The content of the draft bills to be discussed had also stoked anger. Protesters are concerned that a planned general amnesty law would be used by politicians to exculpate themselves from any financial crimes committed while in office.
A draft law creating an anti-corruption commission, while popular, would be ineffectual until a law guaranteeing judicial independence is passed, the protesters argue, noting that most judges are currently nominated by the existing political class.
And yet some argue Lebanons government is in no position to introduce reforms, with some legal experts saying the current governments caretaker status makes it unconstitutional for parliament to be passing laws at all.
“In these circumstances – with a resigned government, with an economic crisis – theres no room for parliament to legislate, especially after one month of protests,” says Diana Kallas, a governance adviser at the civil society organisation Kullna Irada. “Its really comical – its surreal what were seeing today.”
Kallas says the amnesty law is so vague in its wording that “theres a possibility of this covering crimes related to corruption, environment, torture, crimes in office, public embezzlement… we dont know what it covers.”
“This is not how you legislate. Any law should be clear, transparent and precise, or its not constitutional,” she adds.
“We arrived to this financial crisis because of the lack of capacity of the current ruling parties to get together around issues that serve the national interest. There is dire need of a rescue government that is independent, that is competent and that can manage this crisis.”
Its our right to protest, its your right to arrest us
The atmosphere in the streets surrounding parliament calmed considerably in the aftermath of the announcement that the parliamentary session had been cancelled, with riot police retreating to their usual positions at the entrances to Nejmeh Square.
By evening, only a few dozen protesters still milled around the area, lighting fires for warmth as they settled in to camp out for the night.
But following a football match, hundreds of protesters streamed back to the barricades that line the route to parliament.
“Everyone spontaneously headed back to protest after the match. Theyre anxious and excited about what happened today,” said protester Laila Galaini. “It was a huge victory for us, we kicked Nabih Berri (the speaker) out of parliament! Our parents have dreamed of that for years.”
As other protesters gathered in Riad al-Solh Square, just metres from the parliament building, a few young men threw stones at the lines of riot police gathered behind fences of barbed wire.
Immediately pouring out of their base and into the Read More – Source