Protests |

Lebanon's army helped keep protests peaceful

By Nohad Topalian in Beirut

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Protesters gather inside their tents in Beirut's Riad al-Solh Square. [Nohad Topalian/Al-Mashareq]

During nationwide protests in Lebanon, the army played a key role in protecting civilians and maintaining the peaceful nature of the demonstrations in the face of provocations by Hizbullah supporters, activists and civilians said.

Army Commander Gen. Joseph Aoun met with security agency chiefs on October 26th to discuss measures to facilitate free movement on vital roads and the security of protesters, the Army Command’s Directorate of Guidance said.

The Army Command affirmed the right to peaceful protest and expression of opinion, which are protected by the provisions of the constitution and the law.

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Lebanese protesters have been gathering at Beirut's Riad al-Solh Square, pictured here, since October 17th. [Nohad Topalian/Al-Mashareq]

Since the protests began on October 17th, the Lebanese army "has been cognisant that it has the duty to defend citizens, whoever they are, wherever they are", a military source with the Army Command told Al-Mashareq.

"The army protected the demonstrators because they are expressing their opinion, even though it would have preferred that they express their demands in public squares, without blocking roads," he said.

The Army Command also "communicated with politicians to convince them that the solution must be political and not military", the military source said.

"Not for one minute did the Army Command envision suppressing the demonstrators and opening the roads by force," he said, pointing out that this option was "categorically rejected".

The Lebanese army has ensured the safety of the protesters since the demonstrations began, "despite the pressures that were initially exerted on the Army Command to suppress us", said civil activist Ihab Mounjed.

Since October 17th, Mounjed, who hails from northern Lebanon, has been taking part in a sit-in across from the government headquarters in Riad al-Solh Square, just a few metres away from where the security forces are stationed.

He said the army "displayed peaceful and exceptional co-operation with us, as did most security forces, despite the trouble stirred up by Hizbullah supporters".

When these incidents occurred, he said, the army and security forces intervened, and "resolved the situation and restored stability and civil peace".

Protecting peaceful protesters

Throughout the protests, the Lebanese army "stood honourably with the people, because it is of the people", said social activist Hanna Rizkallah, who was present at the protests in Jal el-Dib square.

"The army stood peacefully with the demonstrators, maintained the peaceful nature of the protests, and did not lift finger against any of us," he told Al-Mashareq.

Beirut resident Fatima Mehio said the army "was and remains at the highest level of readiness, in co-ordination with security forces, to ensure security and stability for the demonstrators and those who object to the protests".

"Throughout our time in the streets and roads of Beirut and other areas, the army was the guardian of civil peace, even when Hizbullah supporters started riots," she told Al-Mashareq, noting that the army fended them off.

The Lebanese army "is our protector and guarantor of our safety", she said. "It is a protector of Lebanon's unity and co-existence."

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