Posted October 17, 2020 5:29 pm by

Lebanon protest movement marks ‘harrowing’ first year

Lebanese activists erect a monument close to the site of a devastating August explosion in Beirut port to mark the first anniverary of nationwide protests for sweeping political reform © AFP / JOSEPH EID

Beirut, Lebanon, Oct 17 – Lebanon marked the first anniversary on Saturday of a non-sectarian protest movement that has rocked the political elite but has yet to achieve its goal of sweeping reform.

A whirlwind of hope and despair has gripped the country in the year since protests began, with an economic crisis and a devastating August 4 port explosion pushing Lebanon deeper into decay.

Two governments have resigned since the movement started but the country’s barons, many of them warlords from the 1975-90 civil war, remain firmly in power despite international as well as domestic pressure for change.

On Saturday, dozens of people brandishing placards and Lebanese flags gathered in Martyr’s Square in the heart of Beirut.

The demonstrators plan to march towards the port — the site of the devastating explosion, which has been widely blamed on the alleged corruption and incompetence of the hereditary elite.

There they will hold a candlelit vigil near ground zero at 6:07 pm (1507 GMT), the precise time when a huge stockpile of ammonium nitrate fertiliser exploded, killing more than 200 people and devastating swathes of the capital.

Activists have installed a metallic monument at the site to mark the anniversary of their October 17 “revolution”.

“We still don’t recognise” our leaders as legitimate, said one prominent protester, who gave her name only as Melissa.

“We are still on the street… standing together in the face of a corrupt government,” the 42-year-old said.

– ‘Harrowing year’ –

The immediate trigger for last year’s protests was a government move to tax Whatsapp calls, but they swiftly swelled into a nationwide movement demanding an end to the system of confessional power-sharing it says has tarnished pubic life.

The country’s deepest economic downturn since the civil war has led to growing unemployment, poverty and hunger, pushing many to look for better opportunities abroad.

A spiralling coronavirus outbreak since February prompted a ban on public gatherings but even without protesters on the streets public resentment has grown.

The explosion at Beirut port served as a shocking reminder to many of the rot at the heart of their political system.

It prompted protesters to return to the streets in its aftermath but the movement then shifted most of its energy to relief operations to fill Read More…Lebanon protest movement marks ‘harrowing’ first year  Lebanon protest movement marks ‘harrowing’ first year  Lebanon protest movement marks ‘harrowing’ first year  Lebanon protest movement marks ‘harrowing’ first year