Protesters Form Human Chain, Force Postponement of Parliament Session

  • W460
  • W460
  • W460
  • W460

Lebanon's parliament, besieged by angry protesters, Tuesday for a second time postponed a session that had been due to discuss draft laws which critics charge would let corrupt politicians off the hook.

From early morning protesters from different parts of Lebanon formed a human chain blocking roads leading to the parliament assembly in Downtown Beirut to stop lawmakers from attending a session they deem as "unconstitutional".

Scuffles with riot police broke out while women stood as barriers between the two sides to prevent clashes.

The Parliament is set to discuss several controversial laws, already postponed for a week due to pressure from the street.

It was planned to convene in two session, one to elect the secretariat and committee members, and another that includes draft laws related to fighting corruption as well as pensions and a general amnesty law.

The general amnesty law would include thousands of people.

"Revolution, revolution," chanted the protesters, punching the air with their fists and waving Lebanese flags, in the latest rally in over a month of street protests.

"This parliament is ours," chanted one woman through a megaphone as others banged pots and pans.

Then, shortly before noon and after several parties had said they would boycott the session, parliament official Adnane Daher appeared before TV cameras.

"The session has been postponed to a date to be determined later," he said, citing "exceptional conditions, in particular security conditions".

"This is a new achievement for the revolution," cheered Mohamed Ataya, a 28-year-old demonstrator, vowing that no session would be held "as long as the people control the street".

- 'Great danger' -

Lebanon, its economy in turmoil, has since October 17 been rocked by an unprecedented wave of popular street revolts that have cut across sectarian lines.

What started with protests against government plans to tax online phone calls made through WhatsApp and other online providers has turned into a broader popular revolt against the perceived ineptitude and corruption of the entire ruling class.

Amid the month-old crisis the prime minister, Saad Hariri, bowed to street pressure and resigned on October 29, but the parliamentary consultations needed to form a new government have yet to be started.

A former minister, Mohamad Safadi, who had been considered to replace Hariri, has withdrawn his bid for the top job after more massive protests.

The anti-government demonstrators see the draft law as a way to exonerate people convicted or suspected of involvement in crimes ranging from tax evasion to breaches of environmental regulations.

"They want an amnesty to escape (charges) of tax evasion and to release criminals onto the streets," said one activist who gave her name as Tracy, 24, and who criticized the "illegitimate" parliament.

The specialist non-government group Legal Agenda labelled the proposed law "a great danger".

The parliamentarians had also been due to consider a bill to create a court specialising in financial crimes and the mismanagement of public funds, whose judges would be appointed by the legislature, raising further fears of conflicts of interest.

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