UT, Dec 15 — Lebanese police clashed with anti-government protesters in Beirut late yesterday, firing tear gas to prevent them from breaching barricades near parliament, ahead of talks next week to appoint a new premier.
Lebanon has been swept by unprecedented nationwide protests since October 17, demanding the complete overhaul of a political class deemed inept and corrupt.
The government stepped down on October 29, but bitterly divided political parties have subsequently failed to agree on a new premier, although talks are now planned for tomorrow.
Yesterday’s clashes erupted at the entrance to the street leading to parliament, which was blocked by security forces.
Images broadcast by local TV channel LBC showed the anti-government protesters trying to break through metal police barricades, and officers firing tear gas and beating them.
The demonstrators overturned heavy flower pots and shouted slogans hostile to the security forces and parliament speaker Nabih Berri, the footage showed.
Clashes followed in Martyrs Square — the epicentre of protests since October — and on a bridge in the city centre, according to an AFP photographer.
Security forces fired rubber bullets, while protesters threw stones, the photographer said.
Protesters were injured by batons while others passed out due to the intensity of tear gas fumes, and members of the security forces were also wounded, the photographer said.
The Lebanese Red Cross said on Twitter that it had taken 10 people to hospital and provided care to 33 people on the ground.
It told AFP people had been treated for breathing difficulties and fainting, along with injuries caused by stones, noting that security personnel and civilians were among those treated.
Lebanese civil defence also said it took 10 people to hospital, but did not specify whether the affected were civilians or members of the security forces.
Security services had already used force to disperse anti-government protesters earlier this week.
The process of forming a government will take place as Lebanon faces an economic crisis.
The protesters have demanded a government made up solely of experts not affiliated to the country’s traditional political parties, but analysts have warned this could be a tall order.
Earlier in the day, police in Beirut clashed with young people opposed to the anti-government protest movement.
The afternoon clashes erupted when young counter-protesters from an area of the capital dominated by the powerful Shiite movement Hezbollah and fellow Shiite movement Amal tried to raid a key anti-government protest camp in Martyrs’ Square.
Anti-riot police intervened, firing teargas to disperse them.
The Lebanese protests have been largely peaceful but clashes have become more frequent in recent weeks, with supporters of Hezbollah and Amal attacking protest camps in several cities amid counter-demonstrations.
Both Amal and Hezbollah are partners in Lebanon’s cross-sectarian government.
Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah on Friday warned that the formation of a new government could take time.
Nasrallah said he would support a coalition government with “the widest possible representation” that did not exclude any of the major parties, adding that it could even be headed by outgoing premier Saad Hariri.
The names of various potential candidates have been circulated in recent weeks, but the Sunni Muslim establishment today threw their support behind Hariri returning.
The international community has urged a swift appointment of a cabinet to implement key economic reforms and unlock international aid.
Nasrallah on Friday also urged his supporters — and those of Amal — to stay calm, saying that the “anger” of some of his movement’s members had gone “out of control”. — AFP