'We are here for revenge': thousands march in Beirut to mark Lebanon protest anniversary

Anger at Lebanese politicians has grown as the country went through a series of crises in the past year

Lebanese demonstrators wave the national flag as they drive to a demonstration, marking the first anniversary of a non-sectarian protest movement, in the capital Beirut's downtown area on October 17, 2020. A whirlwind of hope and despair has gripped the country in the year since protests began, with an economic crisis and a devastating August 4 port explosion pushing Lebanon deeper into decay. Two governments have resigned since the movement started but the country's barons, many of them warlords from the 1975-90 civil war, remain firmly in power despite international as well as domestic pressure for change.  / AFP / ANWAR AMRO
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Thousands of Lebanese marched through Beirut to mark a year since protests erupted that led to an anti-government movement in the country.

The mood was upbeat, but the crowd was sparse compared to the hundreds of thousands of people who gathered in the capital last year, angered by an economic crisis that has only grown worse and pushed more than half of Lebanese into poverty.

Protesters set off in the afternoon from the city centre to the central bank, where they called for the resignation of its deeply unpopular governor Riad Salameh.

At Beirut port, they lit a torch and observed a minute of silence to commemorate the at least 190 people who died in an explosion that ripped through the capital on August 4. People staged similar protests in other parts of the country, although in smaller numbers than in Beirut, according to local media.

Are Lebanon's protests making a difference?

Are Lebanon's protests making a difference?

Protesters chanted “the people want the fall of the regime” and insults directed at the most influential politicians, including President Michel Aoun and Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri.

“Today, we want revenge, not a discussion about accountability,” said protester Roula Seghaier.

"This government is not legitimate and never has been since the general amnesty after the [1975-1990 civil] war. They are warlords that have been ruling here for 30 years," she added.

She blamed the economic crisis for discouraging more people from joining the protest.

“If they need to secure a roof over their head, of course they will retreat from the streets, because they have suffered a lot,” she said. “It’s up to us, who have the privilege of an economic income that comes from elsewhere, who don’t need to do the dance of nepotism within this corrupt sectarian system."

Lebanon has gone through one of its toughest years yet. The financial crisis has caused the Lebanese pound to collapse on the black market and inflation hit 120 per cent last August, with the price of food soaring by 367 per cent in a year. Media reports suggest that many Lebanese are emigrating.

Several countries, including France, have offered to help financially, but only if Lebanon implements reforms to increase transparency and fight corruption. Despite multiple promises, political leaders have failed to follow through. Prime Minister Hassan Diab resigned in the wake of the port blast, and diplomat Mustafa Adib, appointed to succeed him on August 31, gave up three weeks later because of political infighting.

On Saturday, the rally in the capital remained largely peaceful until the early evening, when security forces fired tear gas at some protesters gathered in central Beirut. Many of the protesters were young and said they worried about their future.

“Those who have the money to go have left,” said Mark Badrou, 19. The mechanical engineering student said he could not pay tuition fees abroad because of banking restrictions.

“I have been unemployed since I graduated from my master’s degree in chemistry three years ago,” said Aya Huweiji, 24, from the eastern city of Baalbek.

“We don’t have any other choice than to keep protesting.”