Roads blocked, sit-ins continue in Lebanon as protests enter third week
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Roads blocked, sit-ins continue in Lebanon as protests enter third week

Protesters in Beirut burn Israeli flags as police open thoroughfares; banks set to reopen Friday amid concerns the fiscal crisis that preceded the protests could worsen

  • Lebanese protesters set the Israeli flag ablaze as riot police officers remove anti-government protesters blocking the road at the ring-bridge in the Lebanese capital Beirut on October 31, 2019 (ANWAR AMRO / AFP)
    Lebanese protesters set the Israeli flag ablaze as riot police officers remove anti-government protesters blocking the road at the ring-bridge in the Lebanese capital Beirut on October 31, 2019 (ANWAR AMRO / AFP)
  • Lebanese riot police officers remove anti-government protesters as they dismantle a roadblock in the centre of the Lebanese capital Beirut on October 31, 2019 (Patrick BAZ / AFP)
    Lebanese riot police officers remove anti-government protesters as they dismantle a roadblock in the centre of the Lebanese capital Beirut on October 31, 2019 (Patrick BAZ / AFP)
  • Lebanese riot police officers remove anti-government protesters as they dismantle a roadblock in the ring-bridge in the Lebanese capital Beirut on October 31, 2019 (ANWAR AMRO / AFP)
    Lebanese riot police officers remove anti-government protesters as they dismantle a roadblock in the ring-bridge in the Lebanese capital Beirut on October 31, 2019 (ANWAR AMRO / AFP)
  • Anti-government protesters lie on a road, as they scream and hold each others while riot police try to remove them and open the road, in Beirut, Lebanon, Oct. 31, 2019 (AP Photo/Bilal Hussein)
    Anti-government protesters lie on a road, as they scream and hold each others while riot police try to remove them and open the road, in Beirut, Lebanon, Oct. 31, 2019 (AP Photo/Bilal Hussein)
  • Riot police stand guard after they open a road in Beirut, Lebanon, Oct. 31, 2019 (AP Photo/Bilal Hussein)
    Riot police stand guard after they open a road in Beirut, Lebanon, Oct. 31, 2019 (AP Photo/Bilal Hussein)
  • Anti-government protesters lie on a road, as they scream and hold each others while riot police try to remove them and open the road, in Beirut, Lebanon, Oct. 31, 2019 (AP Photo/Bilal Hussein)
    Anti-government protesters lie on a road, as they scream and hold each others while riot police try to remove them and open the road, in Beirut, Lebanon, Oct. 31, 2019 (AP Photo/Bilal Hussein)

BEIRUT, Lebanon — Lebanese security forces were struggling to open some roads Thursday as protesters renewed their civil disobedience campaign in support of nationwide anti-government demonstrations.

Schools had been set to reopen for the first time in two weeks, but late Wednesday many parents received text messages saying their schools would remain closed for security reasons. The state-run National News Agency reported that schools in some areas would remain closed until further notice.

Banks, schools and many businesses have been shuttered since mass protests erupted on October 17. The protests were ignited by a proposed tax on the WhatsApp messenger service but rapidly escalated into calls for the resignation of the government and sweeping political change.

Photos from Beirut on Thursday showed protesters burning Israeli flags.

Banks are set to reopen Friday, amid concerns the severe fiscal crisis that preceded the protests could worsen.

Anti-government protesters burn a poster with the Star of David after riot police open the road, in Beirut, Lebanon, Oct. 31, 2019 (AP Photo/Bilal Hussein)

President Michel Aoun, one of the main targets of the protesters’ anger, was set to deliver a speech later on Thursday. Prime Minister Saad Hariri resigned Tuesday, handing the demonstrators their first victory but plunging the country into greater uncertainty. It typically takes weeks or even months to form a government.

The protesters stood down Wednesday as the army cleared most major thoroughfares, but they packed public squares that night and returned to the streets a day later, insisting their revolution was far from over.

Walid Rihani, a university professor, said the protesters want a government of technocrats and early parliamentary elections.

“We are back on the streets to remind (them) that the formation of a new government should not take more than 48 hours,” he said.

The protesters have been sitting or lying in the roads, forcing security forces to drag them away by their arms and legs. In some places, security forces have removed piles of burning tires, concrete blocks and other physical roadblocks. There have been scuffles but no reports of serious clashes or injuries.

Anti-government protesters lie on a road, as they scream and hold each others while riot police try to remove them and open the road, in Beirut, Lebanon, Oct. 31, 2019 (AP Photo/Bilal Hussein)

On Tuesday, hundreds of supporters of the Hezbollah terror group and the allied Shiite Amal party rampaged through the main protest camp, smashing chairs and setting fire to tents. Security forces dispersed them with tear gas and the protesters returned a couple hours later, repairing the tents and resuming their sit-in.

The government is dominated by allies of the Iran-backed Hezbollah, whose leader Hassan Nasrallah on Friday warned that ongoing massive anti-government protests in Lebanon could plunge the country into civil war, and accused Israel and other countries of working to take advantage of the demonstrations to fuel unrest.

Nasrallah said though the protests began as a popular expression of anger against corruption and deepening economic crisis, they were now being exploited by political rivals and international and regional powers who oppose Hezbollah.

Sympathizers of the Shiite Hezbollah terror group gather to watch the transmission on a large screen of a speech by the movement’s leader Hasan Nasrallah, in the town of Al-Ain in Lebanon’s Bekaa valley on August 25, 2019. (AFP)

“What does it mean that the Israelis get Lebanese among those who are in the Zionist entity to the border to show solidarity with the protests,” he was quoted saying by Hezbollah’s Al-Manar television network. It was not immediately clear what he was referring to. An Iranian-armed proxy, Hezbollah seeks to destroy Israel.

The protesters have called for the overthrow of the political class that has dominated the country since its 1975-1990 civil war, and which includes several former warlords and their relatives. The sectarian power-sharing arrangement that ended the war gave birth to political machines that have drained the treasury and eroded public services.

Three decades after the end of the war, Lebanon still experiences frequent power outages, the water supply is unreliable and trash often goes uncollected. The country is meanwhile $86 billion in debt, accounting for 150% of its GDP.

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