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Lebanon protests sliding into violence amid impasse


A man opened fire with a shotgun over the heads of protesters in a town north of Beirut on Wednesday.


It was the second shooting incident in as many days amid nationwide protests and as tensions rose in Lebanon between supporters and opponents of President Michel Aoun.

There were no casualties in the shooting, which followed scuffles between rival groups from the area around the Christian town of Jal al-Dib.

The groups threw stones at each other, injuring at least one person in the head. The man who fired in the air was later apprehended by security forces.
The incident came a day after a 38-year-old father was shot dead by a soldier at a protest on Tuesday night, marking the first such fatality since the economically driven demonstrations against the government engulfed the country on October 17.

That protest was ignited by comments made by Aoun in a televised interview, in which he said there could be further delays before a new government is formed. He also said the best option was a Cabinet made up of technocrats and politicians to deal with the country’s economic and financial troubles.

He urged those protesting to go home, warning of a “catastrophe” if the mass protests continued paralyzing the country.

On Wednesday, protesters blocked major highways with burning tires and other debris, saying they will remain in the streets despite the president’s appeal for them to leave.

Schools and universities were closed and banks remained shuttered - a reflection of the deepening political and financial crisis the tiny country faces.
“Men carrying sticks and chains attacked us,” said Elie Khoury, an anti-Aoun protester in Jal al-Dib, before troops deployed in the area and opened the road that had been closed by burning tires and roadblocks for hours.

Lebanon is passing through its worst economic and financial crisis since the 1975-90 civil war. It led to anti-government protests that culminated in mid-October as demonstrations spread across much of Lebanon.

The protesters are also complaining of widespread corruption and calling an end for the rule of the political elite that has been running the country since the conflict ended. Prime Minister Saad Hariri resigned on October 29 in the face of the protests, and there has been no significant movement on a new government since.

The protesters, who have been calling for a Cabinet made up solely of experts who could tend to the country’s urgent economic and financial woes, rejected Aoun’s speech.

“Our demands are known, we need a technocrat government that is not related to any politician,” said protester Melissa Barrak, a sales manager speaking at a major intersection in central Beirut that was closed by the demonstrators.

Caretaker Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil said in a statement that work for the formation of a new Cabinet has reached “advanced and positive stages.” He did not elaborate.

Media outlets of the militant Hezbollah group and Aoun’s political party reported on Wednesday that Hariri will most likely refuse to form a new Cabinet. Contacts were still ongoing with Hariri to know his final decision and whether he would choose a person close to him to be the next prime minister, according to Hezbollah’s Al-Manar TV and el-Nashra news website, which is closely aligned with Aoun’s party.