BEIRUT (AP) – Lebanese security forces fired tear gas, rubber bullets and water cannons last Sunday to disperse hundreds of protesters for a second straight day, ending what started as a peaceful rally in defiance of the toughest crackdown on anti-government demonstrations in two months.
The violence comes on the eve of a meeting between the president and parliamentary blocs in which resigned Prime Minister Saad Hariri is widely expected to be renamed to the post. The tension also reflects deepening divisions in the country that is grappling with a severe liquidity and foreign currency crunch.
Hariri resigned on October 29 amid nationwide protests that have accused the entire political elite of corruption and mismanagement amid Lebanon’s worst economic crisis in decades. The protesters say they won’t accept Hariri as prime minister, demanding an independent head of government not affiliated with existing parties.
“Saad, Saad, Saad, don’t dream of it anymore,” protesters chanted last Sunday.
After weeks of bickering, the political parties failed to put forward independent names, most of them insisting on keeping their political share in the government.
The protests last Sunday were largely peaceful, but some demonstrators lobbed water bottles and firecrackers at security forces guarding parliament. After a couple of hours, security forces chased the the protesters away, using batons and tear gas. The protesters dispersed in central Beirut. At one point, someone set fire to two tents set up by protesters in Martyrs’ Square, the epicentre for the anti-government protests for 60 days.
After hours of clashes, the army deployed around central Beirut, putting an end to the pitched street battles. The Lebanese Civil Defence said it transferred 20 injured to hospitals while it treated over 70 protesters on site. A news photographer was among the injured.
The army first deployed to separate protesters and rival supporters of political groups, according to reports on al-Jadeed. The local TV station filmed soldiers forcing protesters to retreat from central Beirut’s squares.