CLASHES BREAK OUT AS LEBANESE ARMY CLEARS MOTORWAY
▶ Caretaker foreign minister Gebran Bassil is believed to be the sticking point in plans to form new government
The Lebanese army detained several people after scuffles broke out during attempts to clear a motorway of protesters on the 20th day of nationwide demonstrations.
The army surrounded and then forcibly moved people sitting in the middle of the Zouk Mosbeh motorway, north of Beirut.
The violence came after two elderly men were found lying on the ground.
Protesters said the men had been pushed over by a soldier.
The demonstrators shoved the security forces in response and several people blocking the motorway later told local media that they had been beaten by the military.
The Lebanese Red Cross said an ambulance had taken one of the men to a medical centre and he was in stable condition. The second man was also admitted to hospital.
Human rights activist Wadih Al Asmar said dozens of people were arrested.
The army tried to clear several roads that were blocked by protesters, who have called for the resignation of the country’s leaders for about three weeks now.
After decades of corruption, poor government and poor service provision, protesters demanded a new government that will work to avert a major looming financial crisis.
While Prime Minister Saad Hariri announced his resignation last week, forcing his government to collapse, the deliberations to elect a new head of government have yet to begin.
Despite protesters’ calls for a non-political technocratic administration, politicians are floating the idea of selecting qualified specialists who represent the various factions.
This will allow them to maintain control while allowing the experts to try to solve the country’s many crises.
President Michel Aoun, however, said he would not start deliberations until stumbling blocks, which have yet to be disclosed, have been overcome.
Sources suggested that one major obstacle was the opposition by many parties to caretaker Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil, the president’s son-inlaw, retaining a seat.
Mr Bassil has been a focal point of national anger.
Mr Hariri and Mr Bassil met for four hours on Monday as the caretaker prime minister and the most likely next prime minister tried to resolve the issue.
Sources said Mr Bassil demanded that he be allowed to name all the Christian ministers, a move that would shut out the Lebanese Forces and others, if he is not in the next government.
Also on Tuesday, Speaker of Parliament, Nabih Berri, announced that there would be a parliamentary session on November 12 to enable voting on issues such as corruption and pensions.
He also said other motions would be tabled to meet protesters’ demands in due course. The house session has been delayed four times so far.
“Starting tomorrow [Wednesday], I will refer a number of laws to the joint committees to quickly decide on them. Deputy Speaker Elie Ferzli will head three sessions a day to finish them,” said Mr Berri, Lebanon’s Daily Star newspaper reported.
Protests continued in the southern city of Sidon, with a rally outside the local office of the central bank, as well as in Tripoli in the north, where protesters forced the water authority’s offices to close.
On the road to the Lebanese American University in Byblos, a number of students who support the Free Patriotic Movement, the party founded by the president and now run by Mr Bassil, tried to remove other students who were blocking the road. The party said that it was a spontaneous move on the part of the students and not on their orders.
In the Bekaa Valley, the Zgharta Serail was blocked by sit-ins, halting much of the municipality’s work.
Among the many economic and political issues the country is facing is a shortage of American dollars.
Caretaker Telecoms Minister Mohammad Choucair said yesterday that mobile-phone topup cards, all priced in dollars, would now be sold to distributors in Lebanese pounds at the official exchange rate and that consumer prices would be fixed at official rates.
Mr Choucair also said that anyone found increasing prices would be prosecuted.
Mr Bassil has reportedly demanded the right to name all Christian ministers if he is not in the next government, but this would shut out other Christian parties
Clockwise, from left, a protester takes part in a sit-in to block a bridge in Beirut; demonstrators said that they had been beaten by soldiers yesterday on Zouk Mosbeh motorway, north of Beirut; graffiti on top of the Dome City Centre known as ‘The Egg’, in the capital as protests entered their 20th day yesterday