Lebanon: two nights of clashes raise tensions in Beirut

Lebanon: two nights of clashes raise tensions in Beirut
Lebanon: two nights of clashes raise tensions in Beirut

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Hind Al Soulia - Riyadh - Tensions rose again in Beirut on Wednesday night as riot police fired tear gas at supporters of the Lebanese party Amal, Hezbollah’s local Shiite ally, 57 days into nationwide anti-government demonstrations.

Videos shared on social media show riot police on a highway in downtown Beirut launching heavy amounts of tear gas at dozens of young men wearing helmets and throwing rocks and glass bottles at them while chanting “Shiite, Shiite”. Injured policemen are seen being carried away.

Local media reported that the men came from the neighbourhood of Khandaq Al Ghamik, an Amal and Hezbollah stronghold close to the city centre. Similar clashes have occurred in the area since protests began on October 17.

Anti-government protesters had gathered earlier that evening near Parliament to express their anger at being attacked on Tuesday night by members of the Parliamentary police allegedly affiliated with Amal leader Nabih Berri, the Parliament speaker.

The protesters chanted “where were you yesterday” at riot police and called Mr Berri a “thief” and a “thug”, in addition to insulting several other Lebanese politicians.

Protesters reject the political elite who have governed Lebanon since the end of the civil war in 1990, accusing them of being corrupt and responsible for the current financial and economic crisis.

Lebanon has been without a government since Prime Minister Saad Hariri resigned on October 29.

On Tuesday evening, protesters drove in several convoys through Beirut, stopping in front of the homes of prominent politicians such as former prime minister Najib Mikati and Druze leader Walid Jumblatt to chant protest slogans and throw rubbish at their entrances.

They also targeted former public works ministers whom they blame for massive floods that hit Lebanon every year and brought the country to a standstill last week.

No violence was recorded until a convoy reached the neighbourhood of Verdun, about 500 metres from Mr Berri's residence, as it was driving towards the house of former public works minister and Amal member Ghazi Zeaiter.

Parliamentary police attacked drivers inside their cars and smashed their windows, injuring several people including local journalist Paula Naoufal.

Her mouth still covered in blood, the 24-year-old reporter with the Lebanese daily Annahar posted an emotional video on social media describing the attack minutes after it happened. She said she was hit in the face despite telling the police that she was a journalist.

“I honestly think that they did not care what I said,” she told The National. “They would have hit even if I told them I was just passing by.”

She said the Red Cross ambulance that brought her to hospital was also attacked by Parliamentary police, who told it to leave.

On Wednesday afternoon, the Parliamentary police issued a press release stating that protesters threw rubbish and empty bottles at police officers, injuring one and causing “clashes”.

Witnesses speaking to local television, including Ms Naoufal, denied that protesters provoked the police.

She told The National she believed that members of the force were Amal supporters. “I went to their profiles and they all have Amal insignia, even though the police are not legally allowed to show their political opinions,” she said.

Ayman Raad, a lawyer who works closely with protesters, said the chain of command of the Parliamentary police was “confusing”.

“Lawyers who have been working on this incident for the past 48 hours cannot find a legal text defining who oversees the Parliamentary police. We know that the Internal Security Forces as well as the Lebanese army dispatch men to protect Parliament," he said. “But whose orders they follow is not clear. It should not be the head of Parliament, as he is a politician, and should have no control over security forces.”

The ISF reports to Interior Minister Raya Al Hassan. The state-run National News Agency reported that on Wednesday, she met the head of the ISF and the director of General Security to discuss “security developments” but she did not issue a public statement.

Asked about a similar incident that occurred on October 29, she told CNN in an interview a few days later that while she condemned violence, “sometimes bad things happen”.

An Amal spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment on Thursday morning.

Despite several attacks on protesters and riot police by Amal and Hezbollah supporters, none have been charged so far.

Updated: December 12, 2019 06:34 PM

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