Beirut (AFP) – Protesters stormed the streets of the Lebanese capital on Saturday to repress the collapse of the economy, with clashes between supporters and opponents of the Iranian-backed Shiite group, Hezbollah.
Hundreds filled the streets in and around the protest center of Praça dos Mártires, in the center of Beirut, with skirmishes also between protesters and security forces, who fired tear gas.
Forty-eight were injured in the violence, 11 of whom were hospitalized, while the rest were treated there, the Lebanese Red Cross said.
It was the first major anti-government rally that has attracted protesters from around the country since authorities relaxed a blockade imposed in mid-March to combat the spread of the coronavirus.
"We came to the streets to claim our rights, to ask for health care, education, employment and the basic rights that human beings need to stay alive," said Christina, 21, a student.
Many protesters wore face masks as part of the hygiene measures imposed to combat the pandemic, which severely exacerbated an economic crisis, the worst since the debt overwhelmed the 1975-1990 civil war.
But Saturday's protest turned violent when Hezbollah supporters clashed with some protesters who demanded that the group disarm.
Hezbollah is the only group that has kept its weapons since the end of the Lebanese civil war, dividing Lebanon deeply on political lines.
"No to Hezbollah, not to weapons," said a sign from Sana, a female protester from Nabatiyeh, a city in southern Lebanon, a Hezbollah fortress.
"The weapons must only be in the hands of the army," said the 57-year-old.
Hebzollah supporters and opponents threw stones at each other, prompting the army to intervene, forming a human chain to separate them, said an AFP photographer.
Hezbollah supporters, who are also represented in government and parliament, sang: "Shiites, Shiites".
– & Eliminate corruption & # 39; –
Security forces fired tear gas near a street that overlooked the parliament building behind the Martyrs' Square after some protesters threw stones and looted shops in the area.
Some protesters set fire to bins while the anti-riot police moved towards them.
Lebanon has been rocked by a series of political crises in recent years, before an economic crisis helped trigger unprecedented mass protests among sectarianists in October.
The demonstrations forced the government to resign and a new one chaired by Prime Minister Hassan Diab was approved by parliament in February, charged with launching reforms and fighting corruption.
But many Lebanese say the new government has failed to find solutions to the country's multiple problems, including a recession and spiraling inflation.
The local currency has lost more than half of its value on the black market in recent months, dropping from the official rate of 1,507 to more than 4,000 pounds per dollar. Banks gradually stopped all dollar withdrawals.
A sign erected by protesters on Saturday called for "a government that eliminates corruption, not one that protects it".
More than 35% of Lebanese are unemployed, while poverty has increased to more than 45% of the population, according to official estimates.
Lebanon is also one of the most indebted countries in the world, with debt equivalent to more than 170% of its GDP. The country stopped receiving foreign loans for the first time in March.
Diab's government adopted an economic recovery plan in April and began negotiations with the International Monetary Fund in an attempt to free up billions of dollars in aid.
photo file / tgg / hkb / dwo