Anti-government protests in Beirut, Lebanon
Anti-government protests in Beirut, Lebanon Reuters

A local official for a Lebanese political party was shot dead by soldiers trying to open a road closed by protesters in southern Beirut late Tuesday, marking the first death in 27 days of nationwide protests.

An army statement quoted by The Associated Press said the man was shot in the Khaldeh neighborhood after an altercation during which a soldier opened fire to disperse the crowd, hitting one person.

The statement added the army command had opened an investigation into the killing after arresting the soldier.

Lebanon has seen nationwide protests against the country’s entire political class since October 17.

The protests in Lebanon were initially started in response to what has become known as the “WhatsApp Tax”, which would have seen a 20-cent daily fee being charged for messaging app users. The tax was later scrapped but the protests have continued and have morphed into a cross-sectarian street mobilization against a political system seen as corrupt and broken.

The man who was killed on Tuesday was identified as a local official with the Progressive Socialist Party headed by Walid Jumblatt, political leader of Lebanon’s Druze community. It was confirmed by the party’s Al-Anbaa newspaper.

Jumblatt told an angry crowd outside the hospital where the man died of his wounds to calm down, saying that “no one will protect us but the state.” He added that he spoke with the army chief and was told about the investigation.

Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri announced his resignation late last month following the ongoing protests.

Following Hariri’s resignation, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo urged Lebanon’s political leaders to help form a new government which will be responsive to the needs of its people and called for an end to endemic corruption.

It was later reported that the Trump administration is withholding $105 million in security aid for Lebanon.

On Tuesday, protesters poured into the streets closing roads around Lebanon after President Michel Aoun said in a televised interview that there could be further delays before a new government is formed.

He said it could take days to set a date for consultations with heads of parliamentary blocs for the naming of a new prime minister and added that the best option is for the new Cabinet to include both politicians and technocrats. Protesters have demanded a Cabinet without politicians.

Asked if Hariri would also form the new government, Aoun said, “I cannot say before the consultations end.”

Hariri’s previous cabinet was formed just last February following a nine-month deadlock.

Asked Tuesday about the protesters and their demands, Aoun said, “I invited them for a dialogue but did not hear back from them.” He urged protesters to go back to their homes because demonstrations are blocking work in the country.

The president also warned that a negative attitude of protesters “will lead to counter negative attitude and this could lead to confrontation.”