Lebanon protesters lob traffic signs, branches at police

Clay Curtis
January 20, 2020

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 Defence.

The public prosecutor ordered 34 of those arrested to be released on Sunday. Reporters on the scene said most of the injured were from rubber bullets.

Lebanese anti-government protesters gather by the barricaded road leading to parliament in central Beirut. A few protesters tried to climb metal barriers separating them from the riot police.

Riot police fired tear gas and water cannons to disperse protesters in the center of the capital Beirut on Saturday.

The pitched battles across the area of Beirut that was a frontline of the country's 15-year civil war lasted about nine hours, spilling on to the steps and into the courtyard of a prominent mosque, inside which some protesters had sought refuge.

"They are using the old method to form the government ... so it's not acceptable", protester Jil Samaha told the Associated Press.

Small groups of protesters are still in the city centre, and the anti-government rally is now continuing in a peaceful manner. "They are trying to rebuild the government with their own people, as if nothing has happened".

Forming a new cabinet is often convoluted in Lebanon, where a complex system seeks to maintain balance between the country's many political parties and religious confessions.

Meanwhile, the crisis is biting: the Lebanese pound has lost almost half its value, dollar shortages have driven up prices and confidence in the banking system has collapsed.

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"Popular anger is the solution", the young protester said.

The lawyers also visited hospitals, from where they reported serious injuries including some caused by rubber bullets. "We are very fortunate nobody lost their lives". Protesters threw steel barriers and flower pots, charging at the forces with sign posts.

Security forces and the military were girding themselves for more violence, following protester calls for more rallies on Sunday. The protesters also smashed bank windows, and there were reports on social media of stores being looted.

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

Protests have recently been escalating, contributing to a plunge in the value of the local currency and an increase in prices.

"Violence only breeds violence", she said.

Crowds spilled back on to the street near parliament on Sunday.

It was the highest toll in some of the most intense violence since largely peaceful protests erupted across the country in October.

The first wave of demonstrations appeared to be closer to a street party, with tens of thousands of people across the country and across sectarian lines gathering to sing, dance and chant anti-government slogans. Demonstrators say the political elite has ignored their calls for forming an independent government to tackle the deepening crisis. Prime Minister Saad Hariri and the rest of the government resigned in late October.

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