A young Druze was killed overnight in Khalde by a soldier. Violence breaks out between soldiers and young protesters in Cola. A remark by Michel Aoun is misunderstood, sparking more unrest. The president backs people's demands but warns against forces manipulating the uprising. Al Jadeed TV is increasingly playing the role that Al Jazeera played in the Arab Spring.
Beirut (AsiaNews) – The Lebanese are back in the streets today, blocking some of the country’s main roads. A large group of protesters on scooters headed towards the presidential palace to hold a sit-in. This follows a violent incident with the army overnight.
The latter is a turning point after a week of relative calm, in which the number of protesters dropped and roads were reopened by the army. The spark appears to be a remark made by President Michel Aoun in a 9 pm interview with two journalists (from Al Mayadeen, a pan-Arab satellite television channel, and Al Akhbar newspaper) that was broadcast live on other stations.
The president's words were misinterpreted. Small groups of 20-30 young people moved to block the main roads as soon as the interview was over. In the interview, Aoun – perhaps in a paternalistic tone – expressed solidarity with the protesters and reiterated that people’s demands were also his, and that by protesting they would help him implement the reforms he wanted.
Aoun said that having reached a certain age, he no longer had any political ambitions, nor economic interests, but only wanted to be remembered in history. He noted again that he had asked protesters to choose representatives to talk to, but had not received a reply.
Until then, he had said nothing provocative. But then he made one remark too many when he said that economic demands had morphed into political ones and that forces external to the protests were trying to ride the wave of revolt.
In view of this, he called on people to be vigilant, warning outside groups that "Not all those who are in the government are dishonest. If you find tainted people among them, they should emigrate. There are some [provocateurs] who are tainted among the protesters; they too must emigrate because they will never come to power by such means.”
The remark was immediately turned into a slogan – ‘President asks people to emigrate’ – that took off on social media and was repeated by Al Jadeed TV, which many increasingly compare to Al Jazeera for the latter’s the role in the Arab Spring.
Quickly but to no avail, the President’s Office issued a statement providing the correct view of what the president said, and a denial of what was claimed.
Last night at 10 pm, AsiaNews spoke to a group of 26 people with tyres setting up a road block at the Cola intersection.
Whilst protesters in recent weeks took it out against all politicians, yesterday the young people present at this gathering insulted only the mother of Foreign Affairs Gebran Bassel, head of the Free Patriotic Movement, a Christian party opposed to the Lebanese Forces party.
Not far away, the first blood was shed. On the road to the Khalde triangle, another group similar to the one at Cola, blocked the road with an improvised sit-in. This was met by action from the army, which from the beginning, had said that it would not tolerate road blocks.
When protesters refused to let a military convoy go through, a Druze soldier fired gunshots “inadvertently” hitting a young man, Alaa Abu Fakhr, also a Druze, who was left to bleed on the ground for 15 minutes before being taken to hospital where he died.
Druze leader Walid Jumblatt immediately arrived at the scene of the incident and later went to the hospital. After the victim’s death, he urged everyone to stay calm. “Now is the time for reason," he said.
Later, other protesters clashed with soldiers, and for the first time in the history of Lebanon, protesters threw stones at the military in an act similar to what happened during the Palestinian Intifada.
Amid this, the attempt to form a provisional government is moving very slowly with the economy acting as an albatross around politicians’ neck.
The Lebanese currency’s slide against the US dollar is continuing in fact; it now takes 1,900 Lebanese pounds to buy a dollar, whilst dollars are harder to find in retail money markets.
Meanwhile, banks are still closed, the official reason being the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad, but that was five days ago.