Hundreds hurt as Lebanon protests turn violent

Protesters had called for a week of "anger" as an economic crisis deepened while efforts remained deadlocked to form a new government to replace a leadership that stepped down under street pressure late a year ago.

The riots began when some protesters started throwing stones at police deployed near the parliament building while others removed street signs and metal barriers and hurled them at security forces.

Almost 400 people were injured in clashes at anti-government protests in Beirut on Saturday, in the worst night of violence in three months of widespread, escalating demonstrations.

As the country sinks deeper into an economic crisis, anger has boiled over at a ruling elite who have dominated power since the 1975-1990 civil war.

But protesters say they want to scrap the old system, and demand only impartial technocrats staff a new government to address their growing economic woes, including a severe liquidity crisis.

An eyewitness, speaking on condition of anonymity fearing reprisals, said the young man was taken away by men dressed in black who put him in a civilian vehicle and drove away. More than 120 were treated in hospitals, including a protester with an eye injury, as well as members of the security forces.

"There was no justification for the brutal use of force unleashed by Lebanon's riot police against largely peaceful demonstrators in downtown Beirut", said Michael Page, deputy Middle East director at HRW.

Adding to the crisis, Lebanon has been without a government since Prime Minister Saad Hariri resigned October 29, meeting a key demand of the protesters.

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Sunday's unrest comes a day after President Michel Aoun called on the military to intervene as fierce clashes broke out between protesters and police.

Saturday witnessed the worst rioting since the protests began, with almost 400 people injured, including around 120 who were treated in hospital.

Police fired tear gas and water cannon to disperse crowds near the parliament in Beirut on Saturday and Sunday.

In a tweet, Hariri said the "continuation of the caretaker government is not the solution so let's stop wasting time and have the government bear the responsibility". Workers also welded fencing together across roads leading to Parliament. The demonstrators widely blame Lebanese financial institutions, alongside government corruption, for the crippling economic crisis.

Political factions agreed on December 19 to appoint former education minister Hassan Diab as the new premier but have since squabbled over proposed ministers. The Lebanese pound lost more than 60% of its value in recent weeks on the black market. The economy has seen no growth and flows of foreign currency dried up in the already heavily indebted country that relies on imports for most basic goods.

Soot and ashes still littered the ground where security forces burned the tents of the protesters who staged a sit-in.

Earlier this week, protesters carried out acts of vandalism in a main commercial area in Beirut targeting mostly private banks.

  • Sonia Alvarado