Sanaa al-Sheikh, a Lebanese anti-government protester, covers her nose from tear gas fired by riot police from behind a barricaded road that leads to parliament in central Beirut on January 19, 2020. Photo: AFP

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Lebanese anti-riot police fired rubber bullets and water cannons at stone-throwing demonstrators in the Lebanese capital Sunday, as hundreds were injured in a weekend of rare violence.

Medics said 90 people were injured in the latest clashes, taking the casualty toll to more than 460 injured in two days.

Unprecedented protests have rocked the Mediterranean country since October 17, with citizens from all religious backgrounds demanding the ouster of a political class viewed as inept, corrupt and responsible for an ever deepening economic crisis.

On Sunday evening, hundreds of protesters gathered in the rain in central Beirut by a barricaded road that leads to parliament manned by heavily deployed security forces.

For a second night in a row, dozens started lobbing stones in the direction of police behind a metal barricade, crying “revolution, revolution.”

Anti-riot forces responded with water cannons, as well as rubber bullets and a round of tear gas.

The Red Cross said 90 people were injured, including 38 who needed treatment in hospital.

The state-run National News Agency (NNA) said two journalists were hit by rubber bullets, one a cameraman from local television channel Al-Jadeed.

President Michel Aoun called for a “security meeting” on Monday with the interior and defence ministers to discuss the crisis, NNA reported.

But a 34-year-old protester called Mazen said he and others had lost hope in politicians.

“After three months of revolution, they have proven to us that they don’t change, don’t listen, and have nothing to give,” he said.

‘Excessive violence’

On Saturday, at least 377 people were wounded – both protesters and members of the security forces – according to a toll compiled by AFP from figures provided by the Red Cross and Civil Defence.

An AFP photographer said security forces fired rubber bullets at stone-throwing protesters as thick clouds of tear gas covered central Beirut.

Lawyers said more than 40 protesters were arrested on Saturday before being released.

Most were subjected to “excessive violence,” while some were wounded “especially to the head and face, and genitals,” the Committee of Lawyers for the Defence of Protesters said on Facebook.

The lawyers also visited hospitals, from where they reported serious injuries including by rubber bullets.

On Sunday, local television aired the testimonies of relatives of two young men they said were hit in the eyes by rubber bullets.

Security forces said they had opened a probe after a video shared online showed police beating up people believed to be protesters as they were brought to a Beirut police station.

Human Rights Watch condemned what it called “the brutal use of force unleashed by Lebanon’s riot police against largely peaceful demonstrators.”

It accused the riot police on Saturday of “launching tear gas canisters at protesters’ heads, firing rubber bullets in their eyes and attacking people at hospitals and a mosque.”

 ‘Stop wasting time’

Saturday’s clashes began after dozens of protesters threw stones and plant pots at security forces, and tried to charge police lines near parliament with traffic signs.

The security forces responded with water cannons and thick tear gas.

Protesters had called for a week of “anger” over the political leadership’s failure to form a new government even as the country sinks deeper into a financial crisis.

“Another day without a government, another night of violence and clashes,” UN envoy to Lebanon Jan Kubis said on Twitter.

Outgoing prime minister Saad Hariri, who stepped down on October 29, urged political parties to “stop wasting time.”

“Form a government and pave the way towards political and economic solutions,” he said.

Political factions agreed on December 19 to appoint former education minister Hassan Diab as the new premier but have since squabbled over proposed ministers.

Protesters have demanded a new government be comprised solely of independent experts, and exclude all established political parties.

The World Bank has warned the poverty rate in Lebanon could rise from a third to half of the population if the political crisis is not resolved soon.

– AFP

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