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