Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 18 November 2019

Lebanon: Hezbollah supporters clash with anti-government protesters

Hassan Nasrallah 'more honourable' than other politicians, supporters chant, as protesters continue call for government to resign

Several people were injured in clashes between Hezbollah supporters and anti-government protesters in downtown Beirut on Thursday afternoon, after President Michel Aoun addressed the demonstrators.

Despite heavy rain, protesters were hampered only by pro-Hezbollah demonstrators interrupting demands for the government’s resignation to shout slogans such as “Hassan Nasrallah [the group’s leader] is the most honourable of them all”.

The men also chanted “Hezbollah is not terrorist, it protects my country”, and “We only answer to you, Nasrallah”.

A large Israeli flag had been placed on the ground for people to walk on, signalling their hatred for Hezbollah’s arch-enemy.

But protesters drowned out the chants with music and danced in their rain ponchos.

“I told them that I wanted to chant that all politicians must leave, including Nasrallah," one young woman told The National.

"They told me I could not say that. They just came to cause trouble."

Another protester said she saw a Hezbollah supporter hitting a woman who had chanted that Nasrallah should resign.

“I was filming the scene and they tried to take my phone,” she said.

The tense stand-off continued until fighting broke out mid-afternoon. Police fired shots in the air to separate the protesters and one witness said at least four people were injured.

Police stood between the two opposing camps as they continued protesting into the night.

Hundreds of thousands have taken to the streets every day since last Thursday, accusing the ruling elite, including Hezbollah, of corruption and demanding its resignation.

For the first time in recent history, people from across sectarian divides have united to criticise their leaders, which have governed since the end of the civil war in 1990, for failing to provide them with basic services such as electricity.

But clashes have occurred between protesters and party supporters. The most violent have involved Hezbollah and its ally Amal in South Lebanon.

In Beirut, the Lebanese army pushed back a motorcade of Hezbollah supporters driving through the city centre on Monday.

Minutes before scuffles broke out in front of parliament on Thursday, an organiser of the pro-Hezbollah protest denied that his group was affiliated to a party, saying they were part of “civil society”.

“We want real reforms. The people are hungry and want to live,” Hassan Ahmad said.

The tussle broke out hours after Mr Aoun, who is an ally of Hezbollah, addressed his country for the first time since the protests began, vowing to tackle corruption but saying the streets were no place to bring down the government.

“Aoun is doing what he can. We need to give him time,” said Mr Ahmad, who was sitting in the driver seat of a lorry with a man standing on the roof chanting pro-Hezbollah slogans.

A picture of Lebanon’s central bank Governor, Riad Salameh, was stuck to the front window, with the words of a popular protest slogan: “All of them means all of them”.

It refers to the resignation of all of Lebanon’s leaders.

Mr Salameh has been a frequent target of Hezbollah in the past few months.

The party accuses him of being overzealous in following US sanctions on Lebanese banks that work with the Iran-backed group, which was the only party allowed to keep its weapons at the end of the civil war in 1990.

Mr Ahmad’s support of Mr Aoun contrasted with the mood among other protesters.

“He said he would implement reforms that we have been talking about for 30 years," said "Lina", who was sheltering in front of Mohammad Al Amin Mosque in downtown Beirut.

"Why didn’t he start working on them before?"

The schoolteacher berated the president for not giving his speech on live TV, choosing instead to record it in advance.

“He is hiding from us," Lina said. "In Lebanese companies, people retire at 64. That should be applied to presidents too.”

Mr Aoun is 84 years old.

Updated: October 26, 2019 04:21 AM

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