BEIRUT (AP) — On a main thoroughfare in Beirut on Monday, Lebanese protesters set up a living room with an area rug, a couch and a refrigerator. On another, they held a morning yoga class. And on a third road, a band with an accordion player sang one of the newest slogans of Lebanon’s anti-government protests.
“Hela, hela, hela ho, the road is closed, sweetie,” the song went — a reflection of how the protesters have grown more creative as they have blocked roads as part of massive anti-government demonstrations underway for the last 12 days.
The protests are directed at the political elites who have dominated the country since its 1975-1990 war, and who many accuse of corruption and economic mismanagement.
In many locations, demonstrators have sat or lain in the streets in a form of civil disobedience, forcing security forces to drag them away by their arms and legs. In others, they have blocked routes with overturned dumpsters and burned tires, sending black smoke up into the air. Protesters set fires to block the airport road in Beirut early Monday before Lebanese troops in armored personnel carriers arrived to clear the route.
Lebanese soldiers forcibly removed protesters from a highway linking the southern city of Sidon to the capital, Beirut, and briefly detained around a dozen of them. No weapons were used and there were no reports of serious injuries from the confrontation.
The protests have paralyzed the country but have been largely peaceful, with security forces exercising restraint. There have been few reports of arrests or serious injuries since the demonstrations began, and security forces have stood by during mass rallies held in public squares.
On Sunday, thousands of protesters formed a human chain stretching along major highways in and around Beirut.
Schools, banks and most businesses remained closed Monday, raising concerns that many Lebanese would not be able to receive their salaries at the end of the month. There are also fears of a run on the banks that could further deplete the country’s limited supply of foreign currency, potentially affecting its ability to import wheat, fuel and medicine.
Long before the protests began, Lebanon’s economy was already suffering from a massive budget deficit and rising unemployment. Its debt ratio of $86 billion is one of the highest in the world, accounting for more than 150% of its gross domestic product.
The protesters blame the economic crisis on political leaders from various religious sects and factions who have dominated the country since the civil war. They say the sectarian power-sharing arrangement that ended the war has spawned networks of corruption, patronage and nepotism that have depleted the treasury and gutted public services.
Thirty years after the end of the war, power outages are still frequent, the water supply is unreliable and trash goes uncollected in many areas.
Associated Press writer Ahmed Mantash in Sidon, Lebanon, contributed to this report.
By HUSSEIN MALLA