Lebanon mass protests sweep the country for third day

Protests across Lebanon over the country’s economic crisis entered the third day following another night of riots on Saturday.
Thousands gathered in Downtown Beirut’s Riad Solh Square and Martyrs’ Square in the morning, in numbers that accumulated throughout the afternoon.

Protests also took place outside of the capital’s el-Helou police station demanding the release of arrested protesters, several of whom are still held in unidentified areas.

The number of protesters gathered in Beirut quadrupled since Friday, The New Arab’s reporter on the ground said.

Local news also reported a man trying to set himself on fire, after the authorities refused to tell him where his son was held.

According to Lebanon’s internal security forces, 70 protesters accused of rioting, destroying public and private property, and looting, were arrested last night. Authorities added that 52 officers were arrested.

Meanwhile, activists who asked to remain anonymous told The New Arab that 300 were arrested. Videos emerged on social media of soldiers and riot police beating and kicking protesters. There are no clear numbers of wounded protesters.

Elsewhere in Lebanon, protestors were met with violence.

Videos from the southern coastal town of Sour showed armed men, allegedly affiliated to the speaker of parliament and leader of the Amal Movement Nabih Berri attacking protestors. Local television station Al-Jadeed said its staff and other media workers were banned from operating in the area. “We are peaceful,” a protestor in Sour told Al-Jadeed. “We are not eating.”

Protestors across the country have continued setting roadblocks across major roads and highways this morning, including on Beirut’s “Ring” highway and in Tripoli.

A security guard sitting alone in an office building watching the protests outside said that he plans on joining. “My shift ends at 6PM,” he told The New Arab. “Then, a I’ll join them.”

Lebanon has been struggling to implement economic reforms to unlock a pledged $11.1 billion in loans and grants from the international community. The country currently has the highest debt-to-GDP ration in the world, and has been trying to cut on excessive government spending through austerity measures.

Protests turned to riots on Thursday following cabinet’s decision to implement a series of regressive taxes, including on WhatsApp calls and other similar services.

Though the decision has since been revoked, protesters have called for the resignation of the Lebanese government, the end of regressive taxation, and early parliament elections.

Earlier today, Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah spoke to appeal to protesters, but opposed their demands to overthrow the government and hold early parliamentary elections.

“Any new parliamentary elections will bring the same current parliament,” Nasrallah said, warning that downfall of the government would potentially lead to “financial and economic collapse” or a “popular explosion.”

He called on all parties to be “held responsible” over what’s happening, adding that the economic crisis was not caused by President Michel Aoun’s administration.

The Lebanese Army released a brief statement calling on protesters to demonstrate peacefully, not damage property, and to cooperate with the police.

Prime Minister Saad Hariri said in a speech last night that he will give himself and Cabinet 72 hours to find solutions to the ongoing economic problems in the country, though he did indicate whether failure to do so would indicate resignation.

Two young men sitting on the top of an abandoned building that saw dozens of protesters break in told The New Arab that none of the responses from the officials were convincing thus far, including PM Hariri, Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil, or Hezbollah Secretary-General Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah.

“Their words mean nothing,” he said. “They do this every time. We’re sticking around”

Meanwhile, his friend, also protesting in Beirut said it was his “duty” to join the protests. “If history is made, I don’t want to be sitting at home,” he said, adding that he is not convinced any solution will come out of cabinet over the next 72 hours. “You can’t fix anything in 72 hours.”

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