Fresh Violence Jolts Beirut, Cabinet in Disarray
Fresh violence erupted between security forces and protesters in Downtown Beirut Tuesday night as the Free Patriotic Movement’s ministers and their allies withdrew from a Cabinet session over partnership, throwing the government into further disarray.
The Cabinet rejected during an extraordinary session earlier in the day the results of the call for tenders that Environment Minister Mohammad Machnouk had announced Monday to manage Lebanon’s waste, saying the prices were too high, but it approved $100 million of investments in Akkar as an incentive to establish a large garbage dump in the northern district.
Security forces scuffled with protesters in Downtown Beirut and arrested a number of them as hundreds of activists continued their sit-in in Riad al-Solh Square to denounce the government’s policies and its failure to resolve the trash crisis, demanding its resignation, the Daily Star reported, citing also Lebanon-based National News Agency.
Riot police used batons to beat protesters who crossed a barbed wire barrier near the Grand Serail hours after authorities, on Prime Minister Tammam Salam’s orders, removed a giant concrete blast wall that had been erected a day earlier at the same location.
The Lebanese Red Cross said it transported at least seven injured people to hospitals.
Protesters smashed some shop fronts on Banks Street and broke advertisement billboards in Riad al-Solh Square, the National News Agency reported. Dozens of police pushed back protesters and chased them away from surrounding streets.
One man was bleeding from his head after being struck with a police baton, and a woman was wailing after she said police struck her arm.
The Internal Security Forces blamed on its Twitter account what it called “some rioters” for the scuffle, saying they tossed stones and Molotov cocktails at security forces deployed behind a barbed wire fence to protect the Grand Serail. “The Internal Security Forces intervened to push the rioters back,” the ISF said.The ISF later said that “some rioters” threw firecrackers at security forces and started fires in the square.
A large number of the 32 “rioters” arrested after the weekend clashes between security forces and anti-government protesters were released Tuesday, while a few are still being held for investigation, the NNA reported.
Hundreds had gathered in Riad al-Solh earlier in the day to denounce the weekend violence and demand officials be held accountable.
Riad al-Solh Square, located outside the Grand Serail, has been the site of daily protests since Saturday, when thousands rallied against the government’s response to the waste crisis in a demonstration organized by the “You Stink” group.
A group that spawned from the protest movement which calls itself “Demanding Accountability” Tuesday descended onto the square, hours after the removal of concrete wall was removed upon Salam’s order.
Protesters called for holding politicians accountable for ordering police to attack protesters, and for engaging in “corrupt deals” in the waste management issue.
The Cabinet decision to reject the tenders was made after Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil, Education Minister Elias Bou Saab and ministers of Hezbollah and the Tashnag Party stormed out of the session over what Hezbollah’s Industry Minister Hussein Hajj Hasan called “a coup against partnership and understanding.” Hajj Hasan noted that the Cabinet recently passed 70 decrees without unanimous approval.
Culture Minister Roni Areiji, the Marada Movement’s representative in the Cabinet, did not attend the session because he was out of the country. The Marada Movement, which is allied with the FPM, issued a statement announcing its solidarity with the five ministers who walked out of the session.
Bassil said the FPM’s ministers and their allies might boycott Cabinet sessions in the absence of consensus on crucial decisions, while Bou Saab warned of “a grave political crisis” if Salam did not act to ensure “real partnership” in the government’s decision-making.
The Cabinet has been in deadlock for months since FPM ministers announced that they would not allow any decision to pass before the issue of security and military appointments is addressed. Later, they demanded an agreement on the Cabinet’s decision-making system.
Following their pullout from the Cabinet session, Bou Saab warned of a major political crisis in the absence of partnership in governance.
“I see black clouds gathering over Lebanon precipitating a grave political crisis. I hope that Prime Minister Salam will act to reach a political solution that will preserve real partnership inside the Cabinet,” Bou Saab told The Daily Star by telephone. “There is no other choice. We are destined to consensus. Everyone must feel that he is a real partner. The solution to the crisis is simple: achieving real partnership.”
For his part, Bassil accused Salam of infringing on the president’s powers by signing some Cabinet decrees and hinted that the FPM’s ministers and their allies might boycott Cabinet sessions in the absence of partnership.
“The prime minister is belittling the ministers and the role of partnership in the Cabinet,” Bassil told reporters following a weekly meeting of the parliamentary Change and Reform bloc chaired by MP Michel Aoun.
“[He] is taking over the president’s prerogatives by issuing decrees and organizing the Cabinet’s sessions and agendas,” Bassil added, emphasizing that “this is originally the president’s role.”
Bassil said the lack of consensus in the Cabinet is undermining partnership.
“Undermining partnership makes us say that we will not accept to be in the Cabinet where matters are not handled according to the Constitution, partnership and consensus,” he said. “Either we go to the Cabinet and participate and agree … or else we will not go to the Cabinet.”
Aoun, who heads the FPM, will speak on the Cabinet crisis at a news conference Wednesday.