HUNDREDS of people have been wounded in Beirut after security forces used tear gas and water cannon to disperse crowds of anti-government protesters trying to reach Martyrs’ Square, the hub of a month-long revolutionary movement calling to overthrow Lebanon’s political and financial system.
On Saturday, demonstrators set out from various spots in the capital in a march towards the city centre under the slogan: ‘We won’t pay the price.’
They insist that the Lebanese revolution is opposed to all sectarianism that harmed Lebanon for decades.
Before they all converged near the road leading to parliament, dozens of protesters flung rocks, traffic signs and tree branches at security forces guarding the institution, local television channels showed.
Security forces sprayed young men with water cannon and lobbed tear gas over a metal fence to disperse remaining protesters on the wet tarmac.
‘A direct and violent confrontation is taking place with anti-riot police at one of the entrances to parliament,’ the Internal Security Forces said on Twitter.
‘We ask peaceful protesters to keep away from the site of the rioting for their safety.’
They published photos of several wounded policemen and a video showing pillars stripped of their tiles, reportedly to be thrown at security forces.
Security forces failed to push protesters away from Martyrs’ Square, the epicentre of the protest movement.
People were very defiant, saying ‘the more violence used against us, the more revolutionary we become’ and promising to stay in the streets and continue with their protests action until they see a change in leadership.
Angry protesters said that they would not back down and would continue to demand change.
‘Unless things change, life in Lebanon is not worth living. We are in an economic crisis and the politicians have proven that they are a real failure. We have nothing,’ a protester near Martyrs’ Square said.
‘It’s been a hundred days (since protests began). And still, who can get hold of their money in the banks? Who has electricity in their homes?’ she asked rhetorically.
President Michel Aoun ordered the army and security commanders to restore calm, while Saad Hariri, who resigned as prime minister in October, said the violence threatened civil peace. ‘It is an insane, suspicious and rejected scene,’ he wrote on Twitter.
Commenting on the developments, Rami Khouri, a journalism professor at the American University of Beirut said: ‘People are expressing extreme anger at leaders they see as in cahoots with each other, at the banking system and political elite working together.’
Protesters say they want to scrap the old ‘sectarian’ system, and demand a new government to address their growing economic woes, including a severe liquidity crisis.
The World Bank has warned that the poverty rate in Lebanon could rise from a third to a half if the political crisis is not remedied fast.
Lebanon protesters respond that they are definitely leading a non-sectarian revolution.’