Police have fired volleys of tear gas and rubber bullets in Lebanon's capital to disperse thousands of protesters amid some of the worst rioting since demonstrations against the country's ruling elite erupted three months ago. More than 150 people were injured.
Thick white smoke covered the downtown Beirut area near Parliament on Saturday (local time) as police and protesters engaged in confrontations that saw groups of young men hurl stones and firecrackers at police who responded with water cannons and tear gas.
Some protesters were seen vomiting on the street from inhaling the gas.
The violence began after some protesters started throwing stones at police deployed near the parliament building, while others removed street signs, metal barriers and branches of trees, tossing them at security forces.
The clashes took place with the backdrop of a rapidly worsening financial crisis and an ongoing impasse over the formation of a new government after the Cabinet headed by Prime Minister Saad Hariri resigned in late October.
Lebanon has witnessed three months of protests against the political elite who have ruled the country since the end of the 1975-90 civil war.
The protesters blame politicians for widespread corruption and mismanagement in a country that has accumulated one of the largest debt ratios in the world.
The protesters had called for a demonstration Saturday afternoon with the theme "we will not pay the price" in reference to debt that stands at about US$87 billion, or more than 150 percent of GDP.
As rioting took place in central Beirut, thousands of other protesters arrived later from three different parts of the city to join the demonstration. They were later dispersed and chased by police into nearby Martyrs Square that has been a centre for protests.
Lebanon's Internal Security Forces called on all peaceful protesters to "immediately leave the area of riots for their own safety". It added that some policemen who were taken for treatment at hospitals were attacked by protesters inside the medical centres.
As clashes continued, some two dozen men believed to be parliament guards attacked the protesters' tents in Martyrs Square, setting them on fire. A gas cylinder inside one of the tents blew up. The fire spread quickly and charred a nearby shop.
Panic and anger have gripped the public as their local currency, pegged to the dollar for more than two decades, plummeted. The Lebanese pound lost more than 60 percent of its value in recent weeks on the black market.
The economy has seen no growth and foreign inflows dried up in the already heavily indebted country that relies on imports for most of its basic goods.
Meanwhile, banks have imposed informal capital controls, limiting withdrawal of dollars and foreign transfers.
Earlier this week, protesters carried out acts of vandalism in a main commercial area in Beirut targeting mostly private banks.
Prime Minister-designate Hassan Diab had been expected to announce an 18-member Cabinet on Friday, but last minute disputes among political factions scuttled his latest attempt.
Source: 9News https://www.9news.com.au/world/lebanon-news-beirut-riots-leave-scores-injured/03d7e6d7-8966-4015-aa95-5c1fd7d73d67