Riot police fire tear gas during anti government protests in Beirut
Riot police fire tear gas during anti government protests in Beirut Reuters

Lebanese police fired tear gas and water cannons at hundreds of anti-government protesters in downtown Beirut on Saturday, CNN reports, as the ongoing demonstrations in the country turned violent.

The network’s reporters on the ground near Martyrs' Square saw demonstrators throw firebombs, rocks and fireworks at police, and shine lasers at them to disrupt successive rounds of tear gas.

Lebanon has been swept by a wave of mostly peaceful protests aimed at the country’s elite that prompted Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri to resign on October 29, pushing the country deeper into economic crisis.

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.

While the protests but had largely been peaceful, things changed this week, when riots broke out in Beirut’s Hamra area, with bank facades smashed and stones pelted at security forces who fired back with tear gas.

Lebanese Interior Minister Raya Haffar El Hassan was forced to apologize after security forces attacked journalists at protests on Wednesday, saying officers were under stress and were struggling to keep up with the months of demonstrations.

Saad Hariri, who is currently leading the country in a caretaker role since resigning, issued a statement decrying the violence.

"The scene of confrontations, fires and acts of sabotage in Beirut Downtown is a crazy, suspicious, and unacceptable scene that threatens civil peace and warns of the most severe consequences," he said. "Beirut will not be an arena for mercenaries and deliberate policies to strike the peacefulness of popular movements."

Hassan Diab was designated by the President as prime minister in mid-December, but he 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.

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