New Lebanese minister says he won’t permit attacks on police

BEIRUT (AP) — Lebanon’s new Interior Minister said on Thursday he won’t permit attacks on security forces amid angry rioting that has gripped the country’s capital amid a deepening economic crisis.

Mohammed Fahmi spoke during a handover ceremony from the outgoing minister, two days after an emergency government was formed. That ended a three-month political vacuum on the heels of nationwide protests against the country’s long serving political class.

“I will not allow the attack on security forces who are carrying out their duties” to protect the country’s laws and properties, he said.

Later on Thursday, new blast walls were erected at the entrance to the street leading to Parliament, the site of recent clashes. The blast walls, some painted with Lebanese flags, were installed as security forces guarded the area. They replaced metal barriers that protesters tried to climb. They also hurled stones and other projectiles at security forces through the barriers. Dozens of protesters gathered to watch but there was no tension.

Meanwhile, Amnesty International called on the new government to “immediately rein in” security forces, which it said unlawfully used rubber bullets at close range against the protesters, injuring hundreds over the weekend before Fahmi took office. On Wednesday, the security forces did not use rubber bullets.

The new government is made up of appointees nominated by the militant group Hezbollah and its allies, raising questions about the Cabinet’s ability to drum up the international support needed to avoid economic collapse.

Parliament still must vote on the new government, although it is expected to approve the new Cabinet.

Many protesters have rejected the new government, saying it is still backed by the same traditional political powers they accuse of corruption.

Fahmi said he would guarantee that security forces won’t attack protesters and will protect their rights to freely express their opinion. He vowed to investigate any security forces violations “if they happen”.

Over the weekend, Beirut saw some of the most violent clashes between protesters and security forces yet. Over 500 people, including over 100 security forces, were injured in clashes outside the parliament building. Protesters hurled stones, firecrackers and flares at security forces who responded with rubber bullets, tear gas and water cannon. Several protesters were hit in their eyes.

Amnesty said with protests likely to continue over the next weeks, Lebanon’s newly formed government must “as a matter of urgency” prioritise reining in security forces and investigate the unlawful and excessive use of force.

It said security forces “shoot-to-harm,” causing serious injuries in the head, face, chin and mouth. At least three protesters were hit directly in the eye with rubber bullets. Amnesty said police also threatened two female protesters with rape.

Red Cross said at least 409 protesters were injured in clashes over the weekend.

“The new minister of interior must immediately rein in the (Internal Security Forces) and order them to comply with international standards and respect the right to assembly,” Middle East and North Africa Regional Director at Amnesty Heba Morayef said.

“Acts of violence by a minority of protesters does not justify a violent dispersal but should have been dealt with in a targetted manner.”

Morayef called for an investigation to provide “redress for the victims and send a strong signal that violence will not be tolerated”.