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Students vow to hold protests, despite ban ISF will try to stop demonstrations

19/11/04 - Daily Star

Lebanese opposition groups asserted Thursday their intention to protest on Friday against what they call the Syrian occupation of Lebanon, despite an official ban by the Interior Ministry.

Meanwhile a U.S. Congresswoman said the situation would be under observation by the international community.

"The Constitution protects our right to demonstrate, and we will go on with it," said Elie Chamoun, head of the Free Students Organization, which is participating along with members of the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) and the Lebanese Forces Party.

The demonstration is planned to mock Lebanon's Independence Day.

Meanwhile, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a U.S. Congressional Representative from Florida, lashed out at the Lebanese government for banning the protest.

"Any action to suppress Friday's planned peaceful demonstration would be in direct contravention of international human rights standards," she said.

Ros-Lehtinen added: "These actions by the Lebanese government mirror the repressive tactics of the Syrian regime and serve to illustrate how the Syrian puppeteer controls its puppets in the Lebanese government."

Interior Minister Suleiman Franjieh replied to Ros-Lehtinen's statement Thursday by saying that the security forces will not attack demonstrators unless they harass the security forces.

"I gave direct orders to the Internal Security Forces (ISF) not to physically hurt anyone unless they are targeted by demonstrators," he told the International Lebanese Broadcasting Corporation Thursday night.

However, Franjieh said the ISF would try to stop the protest because the demonstrators had no license for the event.

"The law is the law, and they cannot break it," he said.

In October 2002, former Interior Minister Elias Murr issued a decision to ban demonstrations. This decision has triggered disputes over the legality of the ban, with legal experts saying

it was unconstitutional as it breaches freedom of expression.

Prime Minister Omar Karami also said the demonstration would be banned.

"They are not allowed to carry on with their move because they did not request permission," he said Thursday.

"If they ask for permission to demonstrate we will give it to them, but they are the ones refusing to ask for permission," he said earlier on Thursday.

Tony Nasrallah, a senior FPM official, said the group refused to ask for permission because basic rights and freedoms should not be negotiated.

"The right of expression is a fundamental right and we do not have to ask for permission to be able to practice it," he said. "We will carry on with our peaceful move tomorrow despite their intention to oppress us."

Students of the Progressive Socialist Party (PSP) and the Democratic Left will also be holding a demonstration Friday, although separate from the FPM's.

"We have our political differences with the FPM, but we agree on the basic right to expression," Khodr Ghadban, a PSP student representative said Thursday.

"Our demonstration will also be a warning for the authorities, and especially the Interior Ministry, not to oppress the students," Ghadban added.

Meanwhile, various political groups voiced their support for the demonstration.

The Christian opposition group of Qornet Shehwan supported the move.

"This is a constitutionally guaranteed right, and we are warning from any attempt to violently suppress the movement of the students," the gathering said in a statement.

The Communist Party also issued a statement warning that "the government must not cross the line when it comes to public liberties."