Beirut protests: Nearly 500 injured over violent weekend in Lebanon as riot police and army called in

Security forces accused of ‘brutal crackdown’ on demonstrations in capital

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Nearly 500 anti-government protesters were injured in Lebanon during a weekend of violent clashes with security forces outside parliament.

Riot police used teargas, water cannons and rubber bullets to disperse crowds in central Beirut on Sunday night as the army was deployed in an apparent show of force.

The clashes followed more than nine hours of street battles on Saturday as demonstrators vented their anger at the institutions they hold responsible for the country’s economic crisis.

Some chanted “revolution” as they marched towards parliament, while others threw rocks, set fire to aerosols and tried to scale the metal barriers surrounding the government building.

During the rioting, protesters smashed the windows of two shops linked to an outgoing government minister they accused of corruption.

According to the Red Cross and Lebanese Civil Defence teams, at least 377 people were injured on Saturday, with more than 120 of those taken to hospital for treatment.

One protester was blinded in the right eye when he was hit by a rubber bullet, according to reports. Lawyers representing the demonstrators said 43 people were arrested and that many of them were beaten in custody before being released.

Lebanon’s internal security forces said 142 of its members were hurt in the clashes.

At least 114 protesters were injured in the protests on Sunday, according to the Red Cross.

Lebanese interior minister Raya El Hassan condemned the attacks on security forces and public and private property as “totally unacceptable”.

However, the non-governmental organisation Human Rights Watch claimed there was a “culture of impunity for police abuse”.

“There was no justification for the brutal use of force unleashed by Lebanon’s riot police against largely peaceful demonstrators,” said Middle East director Michael Page.

“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 demonstrations began in October but have become increasingly violent amid popular frustration with the ongoing political deadlock and rapidly worsening economy.

Protesters have called for an independent government to tackle the crisis, and have targeted commercial banks that have limited the withdrawal of dollars and foreign money transfers. In recent weeks the Lebanese pound has lost more than 60 per cent of its value on the black market.

Meanwhile, Hassan Diab, who was appointed prime minister in December, has not yet been able to form his cabi​net.

“We don’t accept the government the way they are forming it,” said protester Jil Samaha. “They are using the old method to form the government ... so it’s not acceptable. We want a different way of forming a government.”

Additional reporting by Associated Press

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