Over 450 wounded in two days of clashes in Lebanon’s capital

January 20, 2020

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Beirut: 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 Sunday.—AFP
Beirut: 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 Sunday.—AFP

BEIRUT: Medics said 70 people were injured in renewed clashes between protesters and police in Lebanon’s capital on Sunday, taking the toll of wounded from two days of violence to nearly 450.

Unprecedented protests have rocked the country since October 17, with citizens from all religious backgrounds demanding the ouster of a political class they view as inept, corrupt and responsible for an ever deepening economic crisis.

On Sunday evening, hundreds of protesters gathered in the rain in central Beirut by a barricaded road that leads to parliament amid heavily deployed security forces.

For a second night in a row, dozens started lobbing stones in the direction of police behind a metal barricade, crying “revolution, revolution”.

Anti-riot forces responded with water canons, as well as rubber bullets and a round of tear gas, a reporter said.

The Red Cross said that 70 people had been wounded, including 30 taken to hospital, as a result of the renewed clashes.

The state-run National News Agency said two journalists were hit by rubber bullets, one a cameraman from local television channel Al-Jadeed.

The majority of protesters huddled in rain coats or bright waterproof ponchos, with some clutching umbrellas.

Earlier, a 34-year-old 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,” he said.

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

A 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, local television aired the testimonies of relatives of two young men they said were hit in the eyes by rubber bullets.

Human Rights Watch condemned 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.

Saturday’s clashes began after dozens of protesters threw stones and plant pots at security forces, and tried to charge police lines near parliament with traffic signs.

The security forces responded with water cannon and thick tear gas. 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.

The NNA said around 30 people were briefly detained after the violence Saturday.

Published in Dawn, January 20th, 2020