Lebanese riot police fired tear gas and water cannons for the second consecutive day in Beirut as they battled protesters with batons and stones – a marked escalation of mass demonstrations against an ongoing rubbish crisis.
Sporadic gunfire echoed through the capital’s commercial district into the night as police fired in the air to disperse protesters.
The violence came hours after Prime Minister Tammam Salam hinted he might step down following violent protests yesterday that injured more than 100 people.
The violence threatens to plunge Lebanon into new instability and political turmoil.
The demonstrations seek to upend what protesters see as a corrupt and dysfunctional political system that has no functional Cabinet or parliament, nor a president for more than a year.
“We are ruled by corrupt losers! All of them – warlords, legislators and ministers – are working for their own interest and not those of the people,” said Nada Qadoura, a retired woman who took part in the protest along with two of her friends.
The clashes broke out shortly before sunset when protesters tried to break through barbed wire leading to the government’s headquarters.
Police beat back protesters with clubs and water cannons, occasionally hurling stones at protesters who threw rocks and water bottles.
At least two riot police officers were injured and whisked away by their colleagues.
Ambulances carried away at least five injured protesters from Riad Solh Square in central Beirut, where the demonstrators had been gathering since the morning.
Protesters were later able to break through the first barbed wire after clashes with security forces. When the protesters got closer to the government HQ, police fired tear gas, forcing thousands to flee.
The protesters took over a police motorcycle and set it on fire. Some protesters carrying clubs also attacked police vehicles, hurling stones and bottles at them.
Today’s protest was larger than the previous day’s, with some local television stations saying about 20,000 people participated.
The protests started over rubbish piling up on the streets after the capital’s main landfill was closed a month ago.
An online group calling itself “You Stink!” and other civil society groups organised the rallies, calling on Lebanese to join them in a revolt against the corrupt system.