Lebanon security forces fire water cannons at stone-throwing protesters

by Reuters
Sunday, 19 January 2020 17:15 GMT

(Releads with Sunday protest, adds details, context)

BEIRUT, Jan 19 (Reuters) - Lebanese security forces fired water cannons at stone-throwing protesters on Sunday in a second night of violence in Beirut, which has been rocked by some of the worst unrest since demonstrations against the ruling elite began in October.

Sunday's confrontation escalated near parliament a day after more than 370 people were wounded in the biggest casualty toll since the protests began.

Lebanese politicians have failed to agree on a new government or economic rescue plan since Saad al-Hariri quit as prime minister in October, prompted by the protests which have been fuelled by outrage at rampant state corruption and bad governance.

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

Crowds yelled "revolution" as they gathered on Sunday.

Young men pelted security forces with stones. Some tried to climb over barbed wire and fencing to storm a heavily barricaded part of central Beirut that includes parliament. One man jabbed police with a pole across the barriers.

Lebanon's Internal Security Forces (ISF) urged people to remain calm and said otherwise it would be forced to repel them.

"We're not scared. This is all for our future and our children," said Bassam Taleb, a shoemaker, at the protest.

"The country is frozen. The state is not doing a thing, they're a bunch of thieves. And if you have money in the bank, you can't even get a hundred dollars out."

People have turned their ire on the banks - which have curbed access to savings - with some smashing the facade of the banking association on Saturday night.

The Lebanese pound has lost nearly half its value, dollar shortages have driven up prices and confidence in the banking system has collapsed.

Prime Minister-designate Hassan Diab met with President Aoun but left without giving any statement as a deal on the new cabinet remained elusive.

Casualty tolls from the Lebanese Red Cross and Civil Defence showed a total of at least 377 people were wounded on both sides on Saturday. The ISF said 142 police were injured.

Smoke had enveloped central Beirut as police fired tear gas and water cannons. Protesters threw steel barriers and flower pots, charging at the forces with sign posts. (Reporting by Ellen Francis Additional reporting by Yara Abi Nader Editing by Peter Graff, Ros Russell and Nick Macfie)

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