In the second day of mass protests across Lebanon against the government’s handling of an economic crisis, demonstrators in downtown district of Beirut clashed on Friday evening with riot police who fired tear gas and used water cannon to disperse them.
Protesters also set tires ablaze and blocked some of the main entrances to the capital, setting up barriers in the streets of downtown Beirut.
An Al Arabiya correspondent reported injuries among the security forces personnel, while some protesters vandalized shops and cars parked in the area.
Riot police in vehicles and on foot rounded up protesters, according to Reuters witnesses. They fired rubber bullets and tear gas canisters, dispersing demonstrators in Beirut’s commercial district. Some protesters fainted as security forces fired tear gas. Dozens of people were wounded and detained.
In the vicinity of the presidential palace in Baadba, east of the capital, protesters clashed with security forces as they tried to reach the palace.
Road blocking continued in different Lebanese regions.
No political leader, Muslim or Christian, was spared the protesters’ wrath.
The protesters’ chants called for leaders including President Michel Aoun, Hariri and parliament speaker Nabih Berri to step down.
The mood was a mixture of rage, defiance and hope.
As night fell, crowds waving Lebanese flags marched and drove through the streets with patriotic music blaring from loudspeakers while shouting: “Our demands are one, our objective is one: the people want the downfall of the regime,” Reuters reported.
Some protesters, including men in black hoods, used iron bars to smash store fronts in the posh downtown district of Beirut.
As fires blazed, some streets in the capital looked like a battlefield, strewn with rubber bullets, smashed up cars, broken glass and torn billboards. Firefighters struggled late into the night to douse the flames.
The Interior and Municipalities Minister, Raya al-Hassan, implored protesters to avoid vandalizing public property, according to the Lebanese national news agency (NNA).
“I reiterate to all citizens participating in the ongoing protests that the freedom to demonstrate and to express their demands is a sacred right guaranteed by the constitution. In this vein, I urge all protesters not to vandalize public and private properties and to avoid blocking roads and traffic, as this fully contradicts with the ethics of Lebanese citizens,” al-Hassan said via Twitter.
The unrest led Lebanon’s Prime Minister Saad Hariri to issue a warning in a speech addressed to the nation, saying that his “partners in the government” had 72 hours to show that they are serious about reforms, or he will take a different approach.
Meanwhile, the embassies of Kuwait, Egypt, the US, and Saudi Arabia in Lebanon have asked their citizens on Friday to avoid crowds amid protests against the country’s government.
The United Nations urged all sides to refrain from activities that could lead to increased tensions and violence.
The Al Arabiya correspondent reported that protesters in the vicinity of the Presidential palace have left the area past midnight, and the intensity of protests across Lebanon eased.
At the same time, renewed night demonstrations were reported from the city of Jounieh, north of Beirut.
Meanwhile, the Red Cross said its teams had treated 160 people wounded in protests since Thursday evening, including 64 during Friday’s demonstrations.
Lebanon’s internal security apparatus said 52 police were injured on Friday and its forces arrested 70 people.