BEIRUT - Lebanese journalists are facing threats and wide-ranging harassment in their work — including verbal insults and physical attacks, even death threats — while reporting on nearly 50 days of anti-government protests, despite Lebanon’s reputation as a haven for free speech in a troubled region. Nationwide demonstrations erupted on Oct. 17 over a plunging economy. They quickly grew into calls for sweeping aside Lebanon’s entire ruling elite. Local media outlets — some of which represent the sectarian interests protesters are looking to overthrow — are now largely seen as pro- or anti-protests, with some journalists feeling pressured to leave their workplaces over disagreements about media coverage. The deteriorating situation for journalists in Lebanon comes despite its decades-old reputation for being an island of free press in the Arab world. Amid Lebanon’s divided politics, media staff have usually had wide range to freely express their opinions, unlike in other countries in the region where the state stifles the media. The acts of harassment began early in the protests. MTV television reporter Nawal Berry was attacked in central Beirut in the first days of the demonstrations by supporters of the militant group Hezbollah and its allies. They smashed the camera, robbed the microphone she was holding, spat on her and kicked her in the leg. “How is it possible that a journalist today goes to report and gets subjected to beating and humiliation? Where are we? Lebanon is the country of freedoms and democracy,” Berry told The Associated Press.

Russia down US drone near Libyan capital

DAMASCUS - The US military believes that an unarmed American drone reported lost near Libya’s capital last month was in fact shot down by Russian air defences and it is demanding the return of the aircraft’s wreckage, US Africa Command says. Such a shootdown would underscore Moscow’s increasingly muscular role in the energy-rich nation, where Russian mercenaries are reportedly intervening on behalf of east Libya-based commander Khalifa Haftar in Libya’s civil war. Haftar has sought to take the capital Tripoli, now held by Libya’s internationally recognised Government of National Accord (GNA). US Army General Stephen Townsend, who leads Africa command, said he believed the operators of the air defences at the time “didn’t know it was a US remotely piloted aircraft when they fired on it.” “But they certainly know who it belongs to now and they are refusing to return it. They say they don’t know where it is but I am not buying it,” Townsend told Reuters in a statement, without elaborating. The US assessment, which has not been previously disclosed, concludes that either Russian private military contractors or Haftar’s so-called Libyan National Army were operating the air defences at the time the drone was reported lost on Nov. 21, said Africa Command spokesman Air Force Colonel Christopher Karns.

Karns said the United States believed the air defence operators fired on the US aircraft after “mistaking it for an opposition” drone. An official in Libya’s internationally recognised Government of National Accord (GNA) told Reuters that Russian mercenaries appeared to be responsible.