Lebanese security forces fired tear gas at protesters who responded with rocks outside the country’s central bank in Beirut as rallies resumed in the country following a lull.
The street clashes stretched down one of Beirut’s busiest commercial areas and come after a day when protesters resorted to blocking roads to express their impatience at the ruling elite, reported The Associated Press.
The protesters have also turned their anger at the country’s banks, which have imposed capital controls on foreign currency accounts in the highly dollarized economy. Protesters using metal bars and sticks smashed windows of commercial banks and foreign exchange bureaus nearby, according to the report.
Calm had prevailed since the designation of Hassan Diab as prime minister in mid-December. Diab, nominated by the President and a simple majority of parliament members, has so far failed to form an emergency government amid political divisions and jockeying for power.
While Diab is backed by Hezbollah and its Shiite allies, he lacks the support of major Sunni figures, including the largest Sunni party headed by former Prime Minister Saad Hariri, who resigned in October in the wake of the unprecedented nationwide demonstrations.
The protests in Lebanon were initially started in response to what has become known as the “WhatsApp Tax”, which would have seen a 20-cent daily fee being charged for messaging app users. The tax was later scrapped but the protests have continued and have morphed into a cross-sectarian street mobilization against a political system seen as corrupt and broken.
Clashes at the bank began late Tuesday after security forces arrested a few of the protesters. It was not immediately clear why they were arrested. Local media said the protesters had removed metal barriers erected around the central bank.
Lebanon’s Internal Security forces later said “vandals” attacked the central bank and injured a number of the personnel guarding it, according to AP.
Security forces fired several rounds of tear gas while protesters lobbed rocks and fireworks. Some protesters smashed windows of at least two commercial banks and other shops nearby using metal bars. At one point, a security member fired what appeared to be a machine gun in the air for several rounds, the report said.
The scene was caught on camera on one of the local TV stations, Al-Jadeed. By midnight, new security forces deployed and protesters dispersed.