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Exclusive: Lebanese Army Rejects Bloodshed in Dealing with Protesters

Exclusive: Lebanese Army Rejects Bloodshed in Dealing with Protesters

Wednesday, 20 November, 2019 - 10:45
Lebanese army soldiers stand guard next to demonstrators during ongoing anti-government protests at a highway in Jal el-Dib, Lebanon October 23, 2019. REUTERS/Mohamed Azakir

The Lebanese army leadership rejects bloody clashes with anti-government demonstrators who took to the streets on October 17 to protest rising poverty and ask for better state services, a Lebanese official with knowledge of military affairs said.

The army considers bloodshed a red line, the official told Asharq Al-Awsat.

Constitutionally, the military institution falls under the authority of the Lebanese government. But since neither the cabinet nor the Higher Defense Council have met since the eruption of protests, the army hasn’t received any political instructions on ways to deal with demonstrators.

It was up to its leadership to decide what action to take to open roads blocked by the protesters while taking into consideration that they are Lebanese citizens and not terrorists or foreign enemies, said the official.

The army sought to open roads through dialogue with the protesters and certain decisive measures while avoiding clashes.

The military leadership is confident about its decision and will not hesitate to apply similar measures if needed, the official added.

There were limited clashes with protesters because the army is not trained to deal with protests, he told Asharq Al-Awsat.

He said pressure keeps piling after the leadership decided to put 90 percent of its reservists in service. “But we will continue to carry out our duty.”

The official said political parties had no role in the first three days of protests when angry Lebanese took to the streets over proposed new taxes. The masses included the poor as well as the wealthy who wanted to express frustration at the deteriorating economic and financial crisis.

He added that the majority of protesters were youth from colleges and universities, who are seen as the biggest constituents in the 2022 parliamentary elections.

Prime Minister Saad Hariri resigned his government on Oct. 29 in response to the protests, which snowballed into calls for the entire political elite to step aside.

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