By Michael Safi 13.11.2019
First reported death after weeks of unrest could inflame an already tense stalemate
A local political party official has been shot dead by a soldier in southern Beirut, becoming the first casualty of Lebanon’s nearly month-long protest movement.
Lebanon said the killing occurred in the Khalde area on Tuesday evening when a soldier tried to disperse a crowd of protesters by firing warning shots, and hit the man. The soldier has been detained and an investigation is under way, the army said.
The shooting could inflame an already tense stalemate between protesters and the sectarian elites who make up Lebanon’s ruling establishment. Demonstrations flared again on Tuesday before the shooting, after remarks by the Lebanese president that some protesters said were provocative.
“If people aren’t satisfied with any of the decent leaders let them emigrate,” President Michel Aoun said during an hour-long interview, in which he urged protesters to be patient but warned that continued unrest would be a “catastrophe” and harm Lebanese interests.
“We are working day and night to get the situation in order,” he said. “If they keep going, there is a catastrophe. If they stop, there is still room for [us] to fix things,” he said.
Protesters are calling for an overhaul of the country’s post-civil war political system, which they say has entrenched and enriched a small circle of rulers while allowing public services and the economy to deteriorate.
They want the cabinet – a finely balanced compromise between the country’s mostly religion-based parties – dismissed and technocrats temporarily appointed in their place, a demand Aoun’s party and its ally, the Shia party Hezbollah, have said is unrealistic.
Linda Boulos Mikari, protesting on a road north of Beirut, told Reuters that Aoun’s interview had brought her back on to the street.
“We are tired of the authorities always [acting] as if we are doing nothing. The president goes live and talks to us as if we are children, ‘Go home’. Respect us a little,” she said.
The victim of Tuesday’s shooting was a member of the Progressive Socialist party led by Walid Jumblatt, a member of the Druze community and a rival of Aoun. Jumblatt urged his supporters to remain calm as he visited the hospital where the official was taken.
The army is a widely respected institution in a country where most government branches are tainted by sectarianism and corruption is deeply entwined in the system.
Soldiers have been deployed to protect demonstrators in parts of the country but have also forcefully cleared protesters blocking roads.
The protests broke out last month amid the worst economic crisis in Lebanon since the end of its 15-year civil war in 1990. The unrest forced the resignation of the country’s prime minister, Saad Hariri, a fortnight ago.
But Hariri, who has strong relationships with western leaders, is considered crucial in securing an international financial bailout that Lebanon needs to stave off economic collapse, and negotiations to bring him back into government have stalled, Aoun said on Tuesday. “I met Hariri and I found him hesitant between yes and no,” he said.
Banks have closed because of a strike by employees who say they are afraid for their safety from customers trying to withdraw money. Commercial banks, fearing capital flight, have imposed tight restrictions on financial transfers out of Lebanon and withdrawals of US dollars, which are widely used.
Source: The Guardian