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Hundreds wounded in Lebanon anti-government protests as police are accused of 'brutal use of force'

Sara Elizabeth Williams
Riot policemen watch flames rise from the tents of the anti-government protesters - AP

Hundreds of anti-government demonstrators faced tear gas, torrential rain and police water cannon in Beirut on Sunday as they continued to call for political and economic reforms.

For the second night running, hundreds of people were wounded in clashes as demonstrations spun into riots. 

One chant heard from demonstrators in the city’s centre was “peaceful no longer”.

Bystanders reported police firing a tear gas canister into a crowd, and a witness near the city’s parliament saw people in adjacent buildings throwing rocks onto demonstrators below.

Sunday's clashes capped the most violent stretch yet in three months of widespread protests against Lebanon’s ruling elite and its mismanagement of the country’s finances.

Three hundred and seventy-seven people were injured on Saturday night, with 120 taken to hospital. 

Another 34 people were detained. Early on Sunday morning, Lebanon’s public prosecutor ordered the release of all detainees. Large numbers said they were beaten by police as they were taken into custody.

The strong-armed response by Lebanese security forces has elicited international condemnation.

Riot policemen watch flames rise from the tents of the anti-government protesters Credit: AP

"There was no justification for the brutal use of force unleashed by Lebanon's riot police against largely peaceful demonstrators in downtown Beirut," said Michael Page, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch.

"Riot police showed a blatant disregard for their human rights obligations, instead launching teargas canisters at protesters' heads, firing rubber bullets in their eyes and attacking people at hospitals and a mosque."

National religious authorities also weighed in, with the top Sunni Fatwa office criticising clashes and saying that a major downtown mosque had offered care to protesters seeking refuge.

A protester flashes victory signs in front a fire set by protesters to block a road during a protest in Beirut, Lebanon Credit: REX

The country’s banking system is at the heart of protestors’ grievances. There is both long-simmering fury towards financial elites for decades of mismanagement and corruption, and a more pointed rage as the Lebanese pound plummets and the country imposes capital controls.

On Saturday night protesters attacked the Banking Association building, shattering windows and taking metal bars to the building’s exterior. Nearby, security forces lit protestors’ tents on fire.

The chaos has left Lebanon’s hobbled government scrambling to meaningfully respond and somehow stop the cycle of escalation and destabilisation.

Raya el-Hassan, the interior minister, took to Twitter to condemn the violence, explaining that security forces were deployed to protect peaceful protests.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister-designate Hassan Diab’s much-anticipated announcement of a new Cabinet was held up by infighting between political factions.

Protesters vow that despite the escalating violence, they will continue their campaign until the changes they seek are implemented.