Caretaker Interior Minister Raya al-Hassan on Sunday said she has ordered a probe into the fierce overnight clashes between protesters and riot police in central Beirut.
“I was concerned, saddened and astounded as I followed up throughout the night yesterday on the confrontations in the vicinity of parliament and on Beirut’s streets, which led to clashes between security forces and citizens and injuries on both sides,” al-Hassan said in a statement.
“Due to the infiltration of some elements and the multiple missions of security forces, and to pinpoint responsibilities and preserve protesters’ rights, I have asked the command of the Internal Security Forces to conduct a speedy and transparent probe to identify the culprits and the responsibilities in order to take further measures,” al-Hassan added.
“I also call on protesters to be cautious of the presence of certain sides that are trying to exploit their rightful demos, or to confront them, with the aim of sparking a clash between them and security forces who are trying to protect them and their right to assembly,” the minister went on to say, warning that such sides might have “political motives.”
Riot police fired rubber bullets, tear gas and used water cannons to disperse anti-government protesters from central Beirut in clashes that lasted for hours into early Sunday.
The violence around the epicenter of the protest in Beirut was some of the worst since the demonstrations began two months ago.
Dozens of protesters were injured, including some beaten repeatedly with batons by security forces. The clashes brought the downtown area to a standstill for over eight hours as security forces fired a stream of tear gas canisters at the hundreds of protesters, who set fires in trash cans on the main streets, in part to mitigate the effects of tear gas.
The protesters chanted slogans against security forces and government officials, and pelted police with stones in scenes not seen in the capital since the demonstrations began on Oct. 17. At one point, the scuffles reached the headquarters of the Kataeb Party in Saifi, where many protesters were taking cover. Kataeb chief Sami Gemayel appeared on local TV stations as he tried to separate the protesters from advancing security forces.
Lebanon is facing one of its worst economic crises in decades, and the protesters accuse the ruling political class in place for three decades of mismanagement and corruption.
The violence comes just two days before the president is due to hold talks with different parliamentary blocs to name a new prime minister.
The government headed by former Prime Minister Saad Hariri resigned Oct. 29, two weeks after the nationwide protests began. Political groups have been unable to agree on a new candidate while protesters have been calling for a government unaffiliated with established political parties.
Local TV station LBCI showed dozens chanting against Hariri, who is emerging as the favorite candidate despite all the political bickering. The protesters also shouted "The people want to bring down the regime" and accused government forces of excessive force.
More protests are expected later Sunday.
For the first time since the protests erupted in Beirut, anti-riot police fired rubber bullets as they chased the demonstrators away from the area overnight.
The clashes spread to streets surrounding the protest camp, engulfing the area in thick white smoke and the odor of tear gas. Security forces chased protesters around central Beirut, some firing rubber bullets and several volleys of tear gas from armored vehicles. Dozens of protesters had traveled to Beirut from the northern city of Tripoli to take part in the rally outside the parliament building.
The National News Agency reported that some shop windows in the commercial part of central Beirut were smashed by vandals. One officer was injured in the eye when a protester hit him with a stone, according to an Associated Press reporter. Early Sunday, nearly a dozen riot police stood over two protesters and beat them with batons, according to an AP reporter on the scene. The two were later taken away to be treated by medics.
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