Published: Sun, January 19, 2020
Global News | By Blake Casey

Lebanon: Scores injured as riots break out in Beirut

Lebanon: Scores injured as riots break out in Beirut

Lebanon has been without a government since Prime Minister Saad Hariri resigned October 29 amid nationwide protests against corruption and mismanagement by a political class that has been running the country since the end of the 1975-90 civil war.

Security forces then used water cannons and tear gas to disperse demonstrators, who this week demonstrated outside banks in frustration at policies that have driven the crisis.

The violence began after some protesters started throwing stones at police deployed near the parliament building, while others removed street signs, metal barriers and branches of trees, tossing them at security forces. The protesters, which had accused Hariri of corruption, demand that all posts in the new government are assumed exclusively by independent technocrats.

The bells of nearby St. George Cathedral began to toll in an apparent call for calm, while loudspeakers at the adjacent blue-domed Muhammad Al-Amin mosque called for night prayers.

At some point, a tent camp, erected by the protesters in one of Beirut's central districts months ago, caught on fire.

The Lebanese Red Cross said more than 60 people had been treated for injuries, with at least 40 others taken to hospital.

The security forces beat journalists and photographers who were covering the rallies on al-Hamra street Tuesday and in front of al-Helou police station Wednesday.

"We ask peaceful protesters to keep away from the site of the rioting for their safety".

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

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"We don't want a government of masked political figures", the 30-year-old told AFP.

That can be a convoluted process under Lebanon's system, where officials seek to maintain balance between the country's political parties and religious confessions.

Panic and anger have gripped the public as they watch their local currency, pegged to the dollar for nearly three decades, plummet, losing more than 60% of its value in recent weeks on the black market.

Over the past few months, the Lebanese pound - long pegged to the U.S. dollar at 1,507 - has fallen in value on the unofficial market to around 2,500. The economy has seen no growth and foreign inflows dried up in the already heavily indebted country that relies on imports for most of its basic goods. Meanwhile, banks have imposed informal capital controls, limiting withdrawal of dollars and foreign transfers from the country.

Adding to the crisis, Lebanon has been without a government since Prime Minister Saad Hariri resigned October 29, meeting a key demand of the protesters.

Dozens were detained for several nights after clashes on Tuesday and Wednesday, before being released.

Human rights groups denounced the arrests and what they described as unacceptable violence against largely peaceful protesters.

According to the World Bank, the poverty rate in Lebanon could rise from one-third to one-half if the crisis is not fixed. The country has not yet formed a new government.

Local media reported that a new cabinet could be named on Friday, while caretaker Minister of Finance Ali Hassan Khalil said on Thursday that politicians were "on the doorstep of forming a new government".

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