Aoun’s emi­gra­tion com­ment breathes new life into anti-gov­ern­ment protests

The National - News - - NEWS - SUNNIVA ROSE Beirut

Vi­o­lence flared in Le­banon as protesters ex­pressed anger with com­ments made by Pres­i­dent Michel Aoun in a tele­vi­sion in­ter­view.

Anti-gov­ern­ment protesters, who dis­man­tled bar­ri­cades in place since early Novem­ber, burnt tires and blocked mo­tor­ways again on Tues­day evening.

One per­son was killed and sev­eral more wounded in two sep­a­rate in­ci­dents near Beirut. Schools, uni­ver­si­ties and banks were shut.

Protesters said they were out­raged by Mr Aoun’s state­ment: “If they do not like any per­son in author­ity, let them em­i­grate.”

Marie-Therese Zouein Ta­bet, 65, who joined protesters near the pres­i­den­tial palace on Wed­nes­day, said: “Who does he want to keep in Le­banon? Old peo­ple and mili­tias? Is that what he wants?”

Telling peo­ple to em­i­grate touched “a raw nerve”, said Maha Yahya, direc­tor of the Carnegie Mid­dle East Cen­tre.

“Stu­dents had joined protests for the past two weeks to say that they do not want to em­i­grate to find a job. Their par­ents also want a fu­ture for their chil­dren in Le­banon.”

Mr Aoun also said that his son-in-law Ge­bran Bas­sil – re­viled by many protesters – could be part of the new gov­ern­ment.

Push­ing back against protesters’ de­mands for a new gov­ern­ment, Mr Aoun said that he wanted a “semi-po­lit­i­cal, semi-tech­no­cratic gov­ern­ment” be­cause “tech­nocrats can­not de­fine the coun­try’s pol­icy”.

The num­ber of protesters in Beirut had dwin­dled to a few dozen be­fore Mr Aoun’s in­ter­view, but hun­dreds turned up near the pres­i­den­tial palace the next day. One of them was held in cus­tody overnight for in­sult­ing the pres­i­dent.

De­spite their anger, protesters were not the ones who in­sti­gated the vi­o­lence in the past two days, said Le­banese his­to­rian Makram Rabah.

“The rage on the street was cer­tainly caused by Aoun’s speech but vi­o­lence was per­pe­trated ei­ther by pro-gov­ern­ment fac­tions – pri­mar­ily the pres­i­dent’s party, the Free Pa­tri­otic Move­ment, and se­cu­rity forces who think they can bully peo­ple,” he said.

Lo­cal me­dia re­ported that a man who had at­tacked protesters in a town North of Beirut, Jal El Dib, made a hand ges­ture sig­ni­fy­ing his al­le­giance to the FPM, although the party de­nied this.

The killing on Tues­day evening of Alaa Abou Fakhr, a fa­ther of three, by a mem­ber of the army south of Beirut an­gered peo­ple from his home town of Choueifat. They blocked roads with burn­ing tires and rub­bish con­tain­ers on Thurs­day morn­ing.

Abou Fakhr was the first pro­tester to be killed by a mem­ber of the coun­try’s se­cu­rity forces since protests be­gan.

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