Lebanon protesters regroup after day of violent clashes injures hundreds
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Lebanon protesters regroup after day of violent clashes injures hundreds

Despite rainfall, crowds demanding change in ruling class gather in central Beirut, rallying at barricades on road leading to parliament amid heavy deployment of security forces

Lebanese anti-government protesters gather by the barricaded road leading to parliament in central Beirut as smoke billows from tear gas canisters, on January 19, 2020 . (PATRICK BAZ/AFP)
Lebanese anti-government protesters gather by the barricaded road leading to parliament in central Beirut as smoke billows from tear gas canisters, on January 19, 2020 . (PATRICK BAZ/AFP)

BEIRUT, Lebanon (AFP) — Hundreds of anti-government protesters converged on the center of the Lebanese capital Sunday, a day after violent clashes between demonstrators and security forces that injured more than 400 people.

Unprecedented protests have rocked Lebanon since October 17, with Lebanese from all political and religious backgrounds demanding the wholesale ouster of a political class they view as inept and corrupt.

Despite rainfall, hundreds kept up the demonstrations in central Beirut, gathering by the barricaded road leading to parliament amid a heavy deployment by security forces.

“Revolutionaries, free people, we will complete this path,” they chanted, some wearing colorful waterproof ponchos or clutching umbrellas.

A 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,” the 34-year-old said.

A Lebanese anti-government protester kicks back a tear gas canister fired by riot police from behind the barricaded road leading to parliament in central Beirut on January 19, 2020. (PATRICK BAZ/AFP)

In a nearby street earlier, a tea pot lay among black cinders on the pavement where unidentified assailants had set fire to protesters’ tents the night before.

Ali, a 34-year-old who had camped in one of the tents, said he lost most of his belongings in the blaze.

But “the attack made us stronger. We will continue with even more energy to speak out the truth,” he said, huddled around a wood fire wrapped in a blanket.

‘Police abuse’

On Saturday, at least 377 people were injured — both protesters and members of the security forces — according to a toll compiled by AFP from figures provided by the Red Cross and Civil Defence.

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.

On Sunday, social media users and a local television channel shared the testimonies of relatives of at least two young men they said were hit in the eyes by rubber bullets.

Human Rights Watch denounced 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.

A riot police officer fires tear gas from a launcher against anti-government protesters trying to enter parliament square during a protest at a road leading to the parliament building in Beirut, Lebanon, January 18, 2020. (Hassan Ammar/AP)

Saturday’s clashes began after dozens of protesters, some concealing their faces with scarves, threw rocks and plant pots at anti-riot police guarding the road leading to parliament.

Others tried to breach barbed wire barricades to reach the legislature building or charged police lines using traffic signs.

The security forces responded with water cannon and tear gas to disperse the crowds.

Protesters had called for a week of “anger” over Lebanon’s financial crisis and as efforts remain deadlocked to form a new cabinet after the government stepped down under street pressure last year.

‘Stop wasting time’

The civil defense said 43 people were taken to hospital, and 114 others treated at the scene for slight injuries or “breathing problems.”

The Red Cross said it had rushed 80 people to hospitals while 140 were given first aid on site.

The state-run National News Agency said around 30 people were briefly detained.

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.

Lebanese riot police stand guard behind the barricaded road leading to parliament during an anti-government demonstration in central Beirut on January 19, 2020. (PATRICK BAZ/AFP)

Outgoing prime minister Saad Hariri, who stepped down on October 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 December 19 to appoint former education minister Hassan Diab as the new premier but have since squabbled over proposed ministers.

Protesters have demanded a new government be comprised solely of independent experts, and exclude all established political parties they accuse of being motivated by personal and partisan gains.

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.

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