Lebanon clashes continue


Cat-and-mouse clashes between Lebanon’s security forces and protesters wounded scores on a night of violence that rocked central Beirut.

Riot police fired tear gas and water cannon, chasing protesters armed with tree branches and sign posts in a commercial district near Lebanon’s parliament.

Crowds spilled onto the streets after a lull in largely peaceful protests which broke out in October. They are furious at a ruling elite steered the country toward its worst economic crisis in decades.

Police beatings and arrests in recent days alarmed human rights groups and spark fears among activists of a move to crush the dissent.

Smoke billowed out of tear gas canisters encircling protesters as ambulances sped through the streets of the capital. Witnesses said security forces fired rubber bullets.

The Lebanese Red Cross said more than 100 people were treated for injuries, with at least 65 others taken to hospital on both sides.

A security source said at least 15 protesters were detained.

President Michel Aoun ordered the army and security commanders to restore calm.

Saad al-Hariri, who resigned as premier in October, said the violence threatened civil peace. “It is an insane, suspicious and rejected scene,” he tweeted.

After the unrest pushed Hariri to quit, feuding politicians failed to agree on a new cabinet or rescue plan. The Lebanese pound lost nearly half its value, dollar shortages drive up prices and confidence in banks has collapsed.

The Internal Security Forces (ISF) were being “violently and directly” confronted on Saturday. “Those rioting will be pursued, arrested and referred to the judiciary,” it said on Twitter.

Young men chanting “revolution” hurled stones, steel barriers and flower pots at riot police. Protesters tried to push into the heavily barricaded part of central Beirut which includes the parliament.

Interior Minister Raya el-Hassan said it was unacceptable for protesters to “blatantly assault” security forces.

Firefighters put out a blaze that engulfed a protest camp in the centre of the city, where burning tents sent plumes of smoke into the air. It was not immediately clear what caused the fire. The ISF denied media reports some of its forces set fire to the camp, where activists held debates and sit-ins in recent months.

Hundreds of people marched and chanted against the political class in other parts of the capital. A large banner at one rally read: “If the people go hungry, they will eat their rulers.”

Anger at the banks – which curbed people’s access to savings – boiled over, with protesters smashing bank facades and ATMs.