Lebanese army secures central Beirut after ‘trash protest’ erupts in clashes (PHOTOS, VIDEO)
Lebanese army units arrived in central Beirut on Sunday night, following a day of clashes during which police deployed tear gas, water cannon and fired into the air, as protesters threw stones and bottles at police.
Army deployed in martyrs square as a construction site burns. The guys who were rioting here are now gone pic.twitter.com/4V14XYOHYg— Josh Wood (@JWoodJourno) August 23, 2015
Several armored personnel carriers and military Humvees were seen at Riad al-Solh Square near the government’s Grand Serail palace, the hotspot of Sunday’s clashes.
The army reportedly started setting up checkpoints and helping security forces seal the cleared area after the organizers of the protest eventually called on the crowd to leave and return for another protest on Monday.
The clashes between police and protesters continued in Beirut on Sunday evening as 10,000 people gathered on Beirut's Riad al-Solh Square near the government’s Grand Serail palace.
The rally started peacefully, but then a group of aggressive youths attempted to remove the barbed wire which circled the square.
According to the Lebanese Red Cross, at least 59 people – both protesters and police officers – had to be taken to several hospitals following the clashes. A further 343 were reportedly treated for minor injuries in a “field hospital” at the scene, according to the organization’s Twitter account.
Police responded by using water cannon and tear gas, forcing the demonstrators to retreat from the area near the palace. Gunfire was heard as security forces fired in the air in an effort to drive protesters away from government offices.
The protesters kept throwing stones and bottles at the police, who remained behind protective barriers.
NNA agency reported that petrol bombs were also tossed at the security forces by the anti-government protestors.
The crowd chanted “Shabiha!”, which is an Arabic term often used to refer to a thug. They also got hold of a police motorcycle, setting it on fire.
Some of the protest organizers told AP that their peaceful event was hijacked by radical elements in order to achieve different political gains from it.
There were also reports of people taking to the streets in the towns of Tripoli, Nabatieh and elsewhere in the country.
People in the town of Dahr el Baidar have blocked the main road leading from Beirut to Damascus, with cars only moving in the direction of the Lebanese capital, NNA agency reported.
Earlier, the Lebanese Prime Minister, Tammam Salam, described force used against protesters as “excessive” and promised that those responsible would be held to account.
“I warn that we are going towards collapse if matters continue. Frankly, I have not and will not be a partner in this collapse. Let all officials and political forces bear their responsibilities,” Salam said in a televised address Sunday.
The police used water cannon and tear gas to disperse the rally on Saturday. At least 100 people, both police officers and protesters, were injured in the clashes, according to AP.
People in Beirut took to the streets after piles of rubbish began to appear on the streets of the Lebanese capital.
Beirut's main landfill was closed about a month ago and the authorities have yet to decide how to replace it.
Amid the unrest, some were shouting slogans used during the Arab Spring protests like “The people want to topple the regime!”
RT contacted one of the organizers of the rally, who said that the protest was initially peaceful, not calling for a violent change of power.
“We were very peaceful protesters. We were just demanding the resignation of the minister of environment,” the activist, who opted not to disclose his name, said.
He described the response to the protest by the police as “brutal,” saying that the “the army beat us… brutally with tear gas and with bullets – with real bullets.”
“Now we’re demanding the resignation of the whole government, immediately,” the activist said, adding that the parliamentary election must be announced “as soon as possible” in the country.
The political balance in Lebanon is extremely fragile due to legislators having been unable to pick a new president for more than a year.
The principle of ‘confessional distribution’ of parliamentary seats leaves governing divided among 18 religious groups.
Regional threats, like the war in neighboring Syria and the growing influence of Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL), are adding fuel to the instability in Lebanon.
The editor of the Pan-African News Wire, Abayomi Azikiwe, told RT that the situation could easily get worse, affecting Lebanon and adding even more tension to the region.
“There’s a political vacuum inside the country. The presidency has been vacant now for over a year. They had the same government since 2009. There was supposed to be an election in 2014, however, because of the political division inside the country the election has been postponed for another two years,” he said.
According to Azikiwe, the deadlock in the Lebanese power is caused by the ongoing civil war in Syria.
“You have political parties on Lebanon, who support the opposition in Syria, and the other political parties, who support the Syrian government in Damascus,” he explained.
“It may appear to be a domestic situation but it can easily deteriorate into a clash that may not necessarily be controllable by the existing government and security forces inside the country.”