Besieged Lebanese parliament postpones session

Lebanon’s parliament, besieged by angry protesters, Tuesday for a second time postponed a session that had been due to discuss draft laws which critics charge would let corrupt politicians off the hook.

From early morning, hundreds of noisy demonstrators and riot police had faced off and at times scuffled outside the assembly in Beirut, with activists also trying to block MPs’ convoys.

“Revolution, revolution,” chanted the protesters, punching the air with their fists and waving Lebanese flags, in the latest rally in over a month of street protests.

Then, shortly before noon and after several parties had said they would boycott the session, parliament official Adnane Daher appeared before TV cameras.

“The session has been postponed to a date to be determined later,” he said, citing “exceptional conditions, in particular security conditions”.

‘Great danger’

Lebanon, its economy in turmoil, has since October 17 been rocked by an unprecedented wave of popular street revolts that have cut across sectarian lines.

What started with protests against government plans to tax online phone calls made through WhatsApp and other online providers has turned into a broader popular revolt against the perceived ineptitude and corruption of the entire ruling class.

Amid the month-old crisis the prime minister, Sa’ad Hariri, bowed to street pressure and resigned on October 29, but the parliamentary consultations needed to form a new government have yet to be started.

A former minister, Mohammad Safadi, who had been considered to replace Hariri, has withdrawn his bid for the top job after more massive protests.

Tuesday’s plans for a parliamentary session, already postponed by a week, had further stoked anger as MPs were scheduled to discuss a bill to grant an amnesty to thousands convicted of a range of offences.

The anti-government demonstrators see the draft law as a way to exonerate people convicted or suspected of involvement in crimes ranging from tax evasion to breaches of environmental regulations.