Clashes, tear gas in Beirut as protests turn to riots

Lebanese riot police were firing tear gas at protesters in central Beirut, after a planned anti-government demonstration quickly degenerated into rioting and stone-throwing confrontations between opposing camps.

A few thousand demonstrators had gathered in Martyrs’ Square hoping to reboot nationwide protests that began late last year amid an unprecedented economic and financial crisis. But tensions and divisions over the goals of the demonstration quickly became apparent as groups of young men faced off, with the army standing between them.

Scattered groups of protesters arrived in the capital’s downtown area, many of them without masks to protect against the spread of the coronavirus, in response to calls for a centralized protest to press for demands.

Lebanese rose up against their political leaders in nationwide mass protests on October 17, amid a spiraling economic crisis, blaming them for decades of corruption and mismanagement. The protests, which further deepened the slump, eventually lost some momentum and later were put on hold after the outbreak of the pandemic.

It was biggest protest since the government gradually began easing a lockdown aimed at curbing the virus last month. Saturday’s protest was called for by grassroots organizations and civil society groups as well as several political parties, including some groups who have introduced for the first time demands for the Shiite militant group Hezbollah to disarm.

— AP

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