In 2004 a general strike was called in the Lebanon against rocketing prices and poor social provision. During demonstrations the army opened fire killing five.
Leaded/Unleaded: The State Unleashed, produced by Indymedia Beirut is the story of these events, and it is now available online.
LEADED/UNLEADED: The State Unleashed (Lebanon), 2004, 40 mins. (Arabic w/ English subtitles) A film produced by Indymedia Beirut and is download-able online in two versions, big original DVD and smaller avi from here
Leaded/Unleaded documents the May 2004 labour demonstrations in the poorest neighbourhoods of Beirut that were violently repressed by the army. There has been little focus on the perpetual economic crisis in Lebanon, where upwards of 40% of the country's population lives below the poverty line. Many link the current economic crisis to ex-prime minister Rafik Hariri’s neo-liberal economic policies in post-war Lebanon. (Hariri was murdered in a bomb-blast in downtown Beirut on February 14th of this year.)
On Thursday May 27, 2004 a Full Day Strike was called by the General Labor Confederation, with a demonstration near the Council of Ministers' headquarters to protest skyrocketing prices and lack of social services. Meanwhile, in Hay el Sellom, one of the poorest working-class areas in the country in the southern Suburbs of Beirut, a gathering was being held by the Taxi and Minivan drivers starting at 5 AM. In the late morning, and while the residents of the working-class neighborhood were heading towards the main demo, the Lebanese army opened fire at the demonstrators. The final toll of the day was 5 demonstrators killed and dozens injured, including many bystanders.
The heaviest clashes took place in Hay El Sellum in the southern suburb of Beirut when the Lebanese army tried to disperse the protest by shooting live ammunition in the air. Protestors retaliated by throwing stones. Army then opened live ammunition on unarmed protestors killing five and injuring a dozen. The impoverished area in the southern suburb of Beirut was later declared a military zone and roads and entry to it was blocked. Protestors were being group beaten by army personnel aided by secret service police in civilian outfits. Unarmed protestors were roughly handled, beaten and later arrested.
All this took place with top officials' silence, yet as soon as the clashes began, the GLC, which had organized the strike, called on protesters "to stop demonstrating and to remain peaceful and civil and refrain from breaking the law." Meanwhile a Hizbullah-led committee, headed by Hizbullah MPs Hussein Hajj Hassan and Ali Ammar, tried to work out solutions to the clashes by calming demonstrators.
The protests spread all over the area, from Ouzaii, to Gallery Semaan, to the Labor Ministry which got burned down by protestors. Army troops where spread in the areas of clashes and roads were blocked by military on one side, and burning tires on the other side.
The Hay El Seloum area and neighboring zones witnessed clashes extending to late evening between the army and angry protestors and extending to the airport main road stranding more than 800 travelers in there. Two journalists were reported injured, 13 army personnel reported (by the army) injured and many protestors were reported arrested.
Though the presence of the army in public areas is not unusual in Lebanon, the clashes brought back images of the civil war to the minds of the people in Lebanon.