By Countercurrents Collective
More than three months of political blockade have passed since protests in Lebanon erupted. A new government has sworn-in. Still violent protests continue with call for an end to corruption, economic woes and sectarian politics. Protesters have called for a “Week of Rage”. Protesters on Tuesday chanted “Revolution, Revolution:.
More than 540 people have been wounded during the protests. Despite the violence, many teenagers are now taking part in the protests.
Protesters have returned to the streets, saying the new government formed on Tuesday does not meet their demands.
The streets of Beirut filled with smoke and echoed with shots, as demonstrators faced off against riot police in the Lebanese capital. The formation of a new government has failed to quell public anger.
Violent demonstrations continued on the streets of central Beirut as protesters gathered in the heart of the capital near the main entrance to parliament, which has been heavily fortified with barbed wire, steel gates and metal plates.
Ambulances rushed to the outer roads of the protest site and sirens wailed as dozens ran to escape clouds of tear gas.
“We are not scared, we are not scared,” a group of young men chanted as they made their way through the crowd toward the barricades.
Activists tore down tiles from surrounding buildings using metal roads and hammers and then threw them at police.
The demonstrating people marched from the Central Bank towards the Association of Banks then to Riad al-Solh expressing their opposition to the fiscal policies and banking procedures.
The protesters lobbed stones, firecrackers and street signs at riot police, who fired water cannons, tear gas and rubber-coated bullets in a bid to clear the area.
Security forces stood behind the fortified wall as reinforcements were sent to block demonstrators from passing through via parallel roads in the area.
The protesters say the new government comprises the same people they have been rallying against since October 17.
After months of uncertainty, President Michel Aoun, a Maronite Christian, offered the post of prime minister to Hassan Diab, a Sunni Muslim. The new cabinet consists of 20 ministers. The new cabinet includes no members from Saad Hariri’s Sunni party or the country’s Christian Lebanese Forces political group.
Diab’s coalition received the support of Hezbollah, an Iran-backed Shia political and military movement influential in southern Lebanon.
Protesters reject members belonging to the current political elite, which has ruled Lebanon since the end of its civil war in 1990 and is considered responsible for the country’s economic crisis.
Lebanon has been without an effective government since caretaker prime minister Hariri, under pressure from protests against state corruption and mismanagement, resigned in October.
The country’s newly appointed prime minister Diab pledged on Tuesday that his government “will strive to meet their [the protesters’] demands for an independent judiciary, for the recovery of embezzled funds, [and] for the fight against illegal gains.”
He also said his cabinet will adopt financial and economic methods different from those of previous governments, amid the country’s worst economic crisis in decades.
But protesters insist that only a government of independent experts will have what it takes to save the country. Calls to dismantle ruling parties, which include groups that transitioned into politics since the country’s civil war, have also been a major demand of the protesters.
Despite a heavy security presence, people chanted slogans against PM Diab. Security forces responded by firing water cannons to disperse the crowds.
Some protesters attempted to throw tree branches above the fence that separates them from the entrance of parliament.
In the last few months, the country’s local currency, pegged to the dollar for more than two decades, dwindled. The Lebanese pound lost more than 60 percent of its value in recent weeks on the black market.
The economy has seen no growth, and international transfers dried up in the already heavily indebted country, which relies on imports.
The violence on Wednesday resembled that from last weekend, when two days of escalation marred the mostly peaceful protests that began in October last year.
They had been calling for an overhaul of the political system, the formation of an independent, non-sectarian cabinet, and an end to government corruption.
The new cabinet was announced after months of deadlock. Diab said it would be a “rescue team”, which would work to meet protesters’ demands.
But the demonstrators say the ministers were selected by the entrenched political elite that they blame for Lebanon’s problems.
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“I’ve been appointed in the face of many accusations. I wanted to work, not to argue. I have abided by the law informing me to form a government. I followed the rules and regulations to form a new team of ministers,” said Diab, moments after the lineup was read out at the presidential palace in the capital, Beirut, on Tuesday.
“This is a government that represents the aspirations of the demonstrators who have been mobilized nationwide for more than three months,” Diab said.
He said: “In this decisive moment, I salute the revolution and the uprising that pushed us towards this and Lebanon has become victorious. We will achieve social cohesion. There will be accountability.”
He added: “This [is a] government that does not aspire to cronyism and favors. None of the members of the government will be standing for the next elections. This government is made up of non-partisan people who are not affected by political wrangling.”
Some said they would not leave until their demands for early elections and a technocrat-led government were met.
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U.S. withholds support for new government
The new government received a tepid welcome on Wednesday as the Trump administration said it was not certain it would work with the coalition dominated by Iranian ally Hezbollah and its Christian allies.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo withheld support for Lebanon’s new government as it met for the first time in hopes of ending a deepening economic crisis. Asked in a Bloomberg News interview if the U.S. would work with a government dominated by Hezbollah, one of Iran’s most important allies in the Middle East, Pompeo demurred.
“I don’t know the answer to that yet,” he said. “We’re prepared to engage, provide support, but only to a government that’s committed to reform.”
Pompeo and top Trump administration officials have pressed the Lebanese government for years to sideline Hezbollah political leaders. But Hezbollah is a dominant military and political force with grass roots support in Lebanon, securing its influence and stature inside the country.
Trump administration officials have been considering cutting off aid to the new government amid concerns about Hezbollah’s influence, according to U.S. officials.
Last year, without public announcement, the U.S. temporarily suspended more than $200 million in military and economic aid to Lebanon as it pushed the previous government to sideline Hezbollah.
On Wednesday, Pompeo pointed to the continuing protests as a reason to be wary of working with the new government.
“The protests taking place today in Lebanon are saying to Hezbollah No more,” he said. “We want a noncorrupt government that reflects the will of the people of Lebanon.”
Later in the day, Pompeo suggested that international aid would be contingent upon the Lebanese government’s ability to enact reforms needed to pull the economy out of a tailspin.
“The test of Lebanon’s new government will be its actions and its responsiveness to the demands of the Lebanese people to implement reforms and to fight corruption,” he said in a statement that did not specifically mention Hezbollah. “Only a government that is capable of and committed to undertaking real and tangible reforms will restore investor confidence and unlock international assistance for Lebanon.”
The European Union appeared to offer more support by trumpeting its “strong partnership” with Lebanon and describing the new government’s formation as “an essential step” in resolving the country’s problems.