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Security cordon lifted in Beirut's iconic Nejmeh Square Open in fullscreen

The New Arab

Security cordon lifted in Beirut's iconic Nejmeh Square

Crowds filled Nejmeh Square on Sunday night to usher in the new year [Getty]

Date of publication: 4 January, 2018

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Security barriers blocking entrances to downtown Beirut's once-thriving Nejmeh Square have been removed, giving business owners hope for a much-needed boost.
A district in downtown Beirut is open for business once again after a security cordon was lifted in the Lebanese capital.

The security measures blocking cars and pedestrians had been in place around Nejmeh Square, where the country's parliament is found, for a number of years after a series of bombs rocked the city, but were significantly tightened in 2015 following protests over a garbage crisis.

Also known as Place d'Etoile, the district was Beirut's showpiece quarter with cafes and shops enjoyed by tourists and locals.

Now the retailers and restaurateurs are hoping the removal of metal barriers and heavy concrete slabs which had blocked all entrances to the square and forced most businesses in the once thriving district to shut down, will revive the area.

Crowds filled the square for the first time in a decade on Sunday night to usher in the new year with fireworks, music and dancing.

The speaker of parliament, Nabih Berri, who issued Wednesday's order, said he hoped businesses, restaurants, hotels and offices in the area would now be able to resume work.

"There were many times we thought about closing, but we said 'no, maybe things will pick up'," Zeina Hasbini, who runs a chocolate boutique just off the square, told Reuters.

She and her son, who runs a small grocery store next door, said they were sure lifting the barriers would boost business as footfall and investment increased.

Despite some challenges, including hosting a milloin Syrian refugees, the tiny country is inching towards political stability.

Its squabbling politicians agreed a deal that ended a two-and-a-half-year period without a state president and installed a new government under Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri. The government also approved its first budget in 12 years and awarded its first offshore oil land gas exploration licenses.

In August, Islamic State and other militants were cleared from the Lebanon-Syria border area of Arsal after separate offensives by the Lebanese army and Lebanon's powerful Hizballah militia.

However, tensions flared in November when Hariri unexpectedly resigned as prime minister in a shock broadcast from Saudi Arabia - a move seen as a proxy conflict between Riyadh and Tehran. He subsequently withdrew the resignation and the Lebanese government has resumed business as usual.

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