Lebanon’s protesters turn on their leaders, breaking taboos

Lebanon's protesters turn on their leaders, breaking taboos
Lebanon's protesters turn on their leaders, breaking taboos

In the protests sweeping Lebanon, nothing is sacred.

Political leaders, who a few weeks ago enjoyed the loyal supportof core followers despite worsening economic conditions, are now the target ofmany of those people's ire. That show of irreverence towards senior figures whohave long commanded respect has broken taboos, setting these demonstrationsapart from previous waves of dissent.

Saad al-Hariri stepped down as prime minister on Tuesday in theface of mass protests fuelled by resentment against the ruling elite, whompeople blame for the dire state of the economy.

The son-in-law of President Michel Aoun, Gebran Bassil, who isalso foreign minister, has become a figure of ridicule among many on thestreets of the capital Beirut.

Hezbollah, the heavily armed Shi'ite group widely recognised asthe most powerful force in the country, has not been spared. Chants against itsleader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah would have been unthinkable last month. Now theyare common.

In Nabatiyeh, a mainly Shi'ite town in the south of the country, protesters have set their sights on Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, one of Lebanon's most powerful politicians whose Amal Movement dominates the area.

"I have come down to protest to bring down Berri who is asymbol of corruption," said Koussay Charara, a Shi'ite teacher who was oneof thousands of people occupying the town square and surrounding streets.

When hundreds of protesters chanted against Berri in one of thetown's main streets, residents say they were attacked by groups ofbaton-wielding mobs believed to be supporters of Amal and its ally Hezbollah.

At least eight people were hurt, some of whom were hospitalised.

In other places in Nabatiyeh and elsewhere in the south, postersof Berri that adorned government buildings were damaged by angry demonstrators.

The politician himself has sided with protesters, telling MPsfrom his party last week that the crowds had achieved some of the changes thatAmal itself had been demanding for decades.

A source within Amal said the tens of thousands of people takingto the streets had made legitimate demands for greater transparency,accountability and action against corruption."The Amal movement and itsleader were not surprised by the social explosion that took place," he said.

That explosion is pitting people once aligned in a singlefaction against each other, adding to the sense of chaos in Lebanese towns andcities.

In Nabatiyeh, those backing Berri chanted their support.

"With our blood and lives we offer ourselves as a sacrificefor you Nabih," they shouted.

New posters appeared of the smiling politician, accompanied bythe words "We are With You".

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