Lebanon News

Protesters clash with riot police for second day

(The Daily Star/Hasan Shaaban)

BEIRUT: Riot police and protesters clashed for the second day in a row Sunday evening in Downtown Beirut.

Security forces threw tear gas at the protesters to disperse them as well as fired water canon at them.

The developments came after similar scenes of violence erupted Saturday evening.

Thousands of protesters had gathered outside the road leading to Parliament in Nijmeh Square Sunday evening that was blocked by security forces and Lebanese Army soldiers.

At the beginning of the protests, the situation was interrupted by some people throwing fireworks and water bottles at the security forces. The security forces initially didn’t respond, but as the projectiles’ rate increased it drew a reaction from the security forces.

Some protesters said those carrying out the action were infiltrators. “We are against this,” one protester said.

Caretaker Interior Minister Raya El-Hassan called on peaceful protesters to leave the streets. Hassan said in an interview with local media that infiltrators had sparked confrontations with riot police.

The ISF issued a statement saying that its members practiced “self-restraint for an hour and half” while being struck by rocks and fireworks, some of which were improvised. The statement said these actions were being made by infiltrators. “This led to injuries, which led them to fire tear gas,” the statement said.

After a night of violence and attacks against peaceful protesters in Beirut, thousands defiantly took to the streets Sunday, marking the 60th day of Lebanon’s nationwide uprising. From Tyre in the south to Tripoli in the north, the numbers of protesters slowly swelled throughout the day after a quiet morning.

Many protested the expected return of Saad Hariri as prime minister. Hundreds marched through the streets of the port city of Tyre, chanting “Whoever leaves can’t come back,” while protesters in Beirut hung an unflattering photograph of Hariri accompanied by messages refusing his return.

Hariri resigned as premier on Oct. 29, creating a governmental vacuum.

He is, however, expected to be nominated as prime minister-designate during binding parliamentary consultations set for Monday.

In Akkar Sunday morning, the offices of the Free Patriotic Movement and the Future Movement were vandalized and set ablaze, in what both parties said was a worrying attack ahead of the consultations.

ISF head Maj. Gen. Imad Othman, told local media and protesters outside Nijmeh Square Sunday evening that it was the job of security forces to protect citizens and state institutions, and that they had acted within the law. “Any aggression toward security forces is not permissible, and we hope the protests remain peaceful,” he added.

Protesters had stood outside the square Saturday evening, calling for it to be reopened to the public. The space has been blocked off since protests began on Oct. 17.

When some protesters attempted to push through the barricaded entrance, security personnel started using force to break up the crowd. Videos taken by protesters and journalists on the scene showed riot police pushing, kicking and dragging protesters along the ground.

The police used tear gas and fired rubber bullets at protesters, later deploying two anti-riot vehicles mounted with water cannons.

Videos also showed men dressed in black, some wearing balaclavas, beating up protesters with batons. Many have said they were members of the Parliament police force dressed in plain clothes.

The Lebanese Red Cross said in a statement that 10 people had been taken to hospital and another 33 were treated for injuries on site, while the Civil Defense said 36 people were taken to hospital and another 54 were treated by its teams.

The ISF said 20 of its members had been taken to hospital.Hassan released a statement Sunday morning expressing her “sadness” at the confrontations between security forces and protesters and the injuries were sustained on both sides.

She called on protesters to “be aware of those trying to exploit the protests with the aim of creating clashes with security forces.”

The caretaker minister also ordered the ISF to conduct an internal investigation.

French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said Sunday Lebanese leaders should push to resolve the crisis paralyzing the country.

“Political authorities should get moving because the country is in a dramatic situation,” he told French public radio.

Following the attacks, protesters called for people across the country to come to Beirut to reject violence and call for “peace, equality, and the right to live and let live.”

Earlier Saturday, a group of people from Al-Khandaq al-Ghamiq, thought to be supporters of Hezbollah and the Amal Movement, clashed with riot police near the “Ring Bridge” as they tried to enter the main protest sites in Downtown Beirut.

They threw rocks, fireworks and burning tires at police, who fired tear gas in response, eventually pushing the men back.

Groups from the majority-Shiite neighborhood have repeatedly tried to attack peaceful protesters in Downtown Beirut.

The United Nations Special Coordinator for Lebanon, Jan Kubis, tweeted Sunday saying he was “highly disturbed by the ... attacks and violence of loyalists of diverse political forces and ensuing use of force.”

He called on Lebanon’s politicians to designate a new prime minister as quickly as possible to “lead the country out of the crisis.”

A Lebanese lawyer, Kareem Majbour, filed a complaint with the U.N. Human Rights Council Sunday against the Lebanese state, security forces and Hassan for the excessive force used against protesters since the start of the demonstrations.

Countrywide protests erupted on Oct. 17 against a corrupt ruling class, a decades-old sectarian political system and deteriorating living conditions. They have mostly been peaceful, with Lebanese of all sects coming together in diverse demonstrations. Saturday was one of the most serious instances of violence that have been seen in the nearly two months of protests. - With AFP

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on December 16, 2019, on page 2.

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