Anti-government protests escalate in Lebanon


Security forces fired tear gas, water cannons and rubber bullets in clashes Sunday with hundreds of anti-government protesters outside Lebanon's Parliament, as violence continued to escalate in a week of rioting.

Lebanese politicians have failed to agree on a new government or economic rescue plan since Saad al-Hariri quit as prime minister in October, prompted by the protests which have been fuelled by outrage at rampant state corruption and bad governance.

Saturday witnessed the worst rioting since the protests began, with almost 400 people injured, including around 120 who were treated in hospital.

Security forces and the military were girding themselves for more violence, following protester calls for more rallies on Sunday. A few protesters tried to breach metal barriers that separated them from the riot police, while hundreds more gathered down the blocked street leading to the Parliament building.

Many protesters took out their ire against the banks that have restricted access to savings accounts and money transfers overseas by smashing the facade of the banking association.

They also accused security forces of firing rubber bullets at the eyes of protesters in other Twitter posts, as rights groups and the United Nations criticized police over the crackdown.

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Lebanese police arrest an anti-government protester after dispersing a protest in Beirut, Lebanon, Saturday, Jan. 18, 2020.

"The police hit me", the architect, 25, said.

The Internal Security Forces said 142 police were injured.

Amid a downpour of rain and the advance of security forces, protesters retreated and the situation calmed in central Beirut.

"Another day without a government, another night of violence and clashes", United Nations envoy to Lebanon Jan Kubis said on Twitter. "Riot police showed a blatant disregard for their human rights obligations, instead launching teargas canisters at protesters' heads, firing rubber bullets in their eyes and attacking people at hospitals and a mosque".

The demonstrators demand dissolution of parliament and early elections, formation of a new independent government and implementation of fair economic reforms.

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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.

President Michel Aoun appointed former education minister Hassan Diab as prime minister last month.

"It's not peaceful any more because they don't want to hear us", she said.

"We will not pay the price", chanted some protestors, referencing the national debt, which now stands at $87 billion (€78 billion) or 150% of GDP.

People have turned their ire on the banks - which have curbed access to savings - with some smashing the facade of the banking association on Saturday night.

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