BEIRUT: Dozens of stone-throwing demonstrators defied police water cannons in the Lebanese capital yesterday, a day after rare violence between both sides wounded nearly 400 people. Unprecedented protests have rocked the country since Oct 17, with citizens from all religious backgrounds demanding the ouster of a political class they view as inept, corrupt and responsible for an ever deepening economic crisis.
Yesterday evening, hundreds of protesters gathered in the rain in central Beirut by a barricaded road that leads to parliament amid heavily deployed security forces. For a second night in a row, dozens started lobbing stones in the direction of the police behind the metal barricade, crying “revolution, revolution”. The Red Cross said that 10 people had been taken to hospital as a result of renewed clashes yesterday evening.
One protester taunted the security forces with a flame-throwing aerosol, as others shone bright green laser lights in their direction. Anti-riot forces responded with water cannons, as well as a round of tear gas and rubber bullets, an AFP reporter said. On Twitter, the security forces called for protesters to avoid throwing “explosives and stones” at personnel. The majority of protesters huddled nearby, in rain coats or bright waterproof ponchos, with some clutching umbrellas.
Earlier, a 34-year-old protester called Mazen said he and others were “fed up with politicians”. “After three months of revolution, they have proven to us that they don’t change, don’t listen, and have nothing to give,” he said. On Saturday, at least 377 people were wounded – both protesters and members of the security forces -according to a toll compiled by AFP from figures provided by the Red Cross and Civil Defense. An AFP photographer at the scene said security forces fired rubber bullets at stone-throwing protesters as thick clouds of tear gas covered central Beirut.
Yesterday, local television aired the testimonies of relatives of two young men they said were hit in the eyes by rubber bullets. Human Rights Watch condemned what it called “the brutal use of force unleashed by Lebanon’s riot police against largely peaceful demonstrators”. “Riot police showed a blatant disregard for their human rights obligations, instead launching tear gas canisters at protesters’ heads, firing rubber bullets in their eyes and attacking people at hospitals and a mosque,” said its deputy Middle East director Michael Page. The authorities must act quickly “to end this culture of impunity for police abuse”, he said.
Saturday’s clashes began after dozens of protesters threw stones and plant pots at security forces, and tried to charge police lines near parliament with traffic signs. The security forces responded with water cannon and thick tear gas. Protesters had called for a week of “anger” over the political leadership’s failure to form a new government even as the country sinks deeper into a financial crisis.
The state-run National News Agency said around 30 people were briefly detained after the violence Saturday. Security forces said they had opened a probe after a video shared online showed police beating up people believed to be protesters as they were brought to a Beirut police station. “Another day without a government, another night of violence and clashes,” UN envoy to Lebanon Jan Kubis said on Twitter.
Outgoing prime minister Saad Hariri, who stepped down on Oct 29, urged political parties to “stop wasting time”. “Form a government and pave the way towards political and economic solutions,” he said. Political factions agreed on Dec 19 to appoint former education minister Hassan Diab as the new premier but have since squabbled over proposed ministers.
Diab yesterday evening met President Michel Aoun to discuss the matter, NNA said. Protesters have demanded a new government be comprised solely of independent experts, and exclude all established political parties. The World Bank has warned the poverty rate in Lebanon could rise from a third to half of the population if the political crisis is not resolved soon. – AFP