Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 13 November 2019

Entering Beirut: the journey into a city on the brink

An eery calm has blanketed the Lebanese capital as protesters prepare for another day of rallies, Willy Lowry reports

Black smoke rise from burning tires that were set fire to block a road during a protest against government's plans to impose new taxes in Beirut, Lebanon, Saturday, October 19, 2019. AP
Black smoke rise from burning tires that were set fire to block a road during a protest against government's plans to impose new taxes in Beirut, Lebanon, Saturday, October 19, 2019. AP

I’ve been coming in and out of Beirut for more than a decade now. Never have I seen the roads so empty as they were today. Hopping into the taxi, my driver immediately warned me the drive could take much longer than normal. “Yesterday,” he said, “the drive took hours.” But exiting the airport it became clear that an eery calm had blanketed the city.

Debris littered the road and the charred remains of streets signs were strewn about. But the chaos of yesterday had subsided at least momentarily. Before I had even realised it, we were nearing downtown in record time.

Things got a little more complicated as I approached my hotel. The neighborhood I’m staying in looks over Martyr’s Square and is not far from where the protesters have been gathering.

As we grew closer and closer to my hotel the driver became increasingly frustrated. Side streets were blocked and there was no way to navigate through the winding alleyways of the city.

I was forced to walk the last 500 metres. As I exited the car a hint of tear gas still filled the air. Down the street, crowds were gathering for another afternoon of demonstrations.

Two days of protests have Beirut on edge. People I've spoken to say it feels different than previous protests.

Clashes between demonstrators and security forces have turned violent at times and it doesn’t look like it will relent any time soon.

Updated: October 19, 2019 05:12 PM

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