Lebanon detains 100 after protests turn violent

Lebanese security forces holding at least 100 anti-government protesters after two nights of demonstrations which saw banks vandalised, rocks hurled at police.

BEIRUT - Lebanon's security forces were holding at least 100 anti-government protesters Thursday, lawyers said, after two nights of demonstrations that turned violent in Beirut.

An unprecedented nationwide movement of protests demanding an end to endemic corruption and the wholesale removal of Lebanon's political elite broke out nearly three months ago.

With little change in sight, protesters also angered by a financial crisis they blame on Lebanon's oligarchs resumed their rallies with renewed determination Tuesday after a holiday lull.

Protesters vandalised several banks on the central Hamra street on Tuesday evening and hurled rocks at anti-riot police, who responded with volleys of tear gas canisters.

Gathered in front of the Central Bank again on Wednesday, the protesters then moved to a police station where some of their comrades had been detained the previous night, leading to clashes that left dozens wounded.

According to documents put together by a committee of lawyers defending the protesters, a total of 101 protesters are currently being detained over the violence.

"The total number of people arrested now tops 100, it's madness," said Nizar Saghieh, who heads the Legal Agenda non-government organisation.

'Not a robot'

Protesters rallied outside the Interior Ministry on Thursday to decry security forces' use of violence over the previous two days, which they say also included attacks on journalists.

Many raised photos of journalists getting beaten by riot police. Others gathered outside the American University of Beirut and a police station where dozens have been detained since Tuesday.

Lynn Maalouf, Amnesty International's Middle East Director, told the Associated Press that security forces have used “excessive” tear gas in densely populated districts.

Lawyers have also accused security forces of detaining five minors in the unprecedented wave of arrests, Maalouf said.

They have beaten and verbally abused some protesters and attacked journalists, trying to prevent them from filming, she said. A Reuters video journalist was injured by security forces and treated in a hospital.

Hussein Baydoun, a photographer, said he was briefly detained and asked to erase his pictures by security forces who came after him as he filmed clashes outside a police station Wednesday night.

“The officer and three soldiers came at me and (the officer) said bring him to me. They held me and they wrestled the camera from me,” Baydoun said.

Interim Interior Minister Raya El Hassan said attacks on the press were “rejected” and promised an investigation. She said security forces are ”tired" and “scared for themselves” after 90 days of protests. That doesn't justify the attacks, she said, but she appealed to journalists to put themselves in the shoes of the security forces.

Lebanon's Internal Security Forces (ISF) said they were pursuing rioters and 100 policemen were injured this week. "The ISF member is suffering daily in the street," ISF chief Imad Othman said on Thursday. "He is not a robot, he is a human."

'Not listening'

"These past two nights, they (police) were really barbaric," Cynthia Sleiman, a charity worker and protester who ended up in hospital after Wednesday night's violence in Beirut, told Reuters news agency.

"I had just arrived and was looking for my friends when the policeman grabbed me, hitting me on the head and neck. I fell to the ground and blood was streaming out," she said.

Bachir Abu Zeid was one of over 50 protesters detained late Wednesday. He said he was pulled inside a police station as he tried to help others who fell to the ground while protesting outside.

He said he was kept in a small cell with 30 people overnight and was only allowed to call his family nearly six hours after he was taken in.

“We are expecting this. it is becoming more violent from them and us. They are not listening to people,” Abu Zeid said after his release. “This repression will only make us stronger and give us momentum.”

Prime Minister Saad Hariri resigned under pressure from the street less than two weeks into the wave of protests but a new government has still not been formed.

“It has been over 90 days since the beginning of the protests and to this day the authorities have completely failed to address the demands of the protests,” said Amnesty's Maalouf. “In the past two days, we have seen an escalation on both sides."

After a long search for a suitable candidate, former education minister and university professor Hassan Diab was nominated as Prime Minister and tasked with picking a new cabinet.

Protesters are demanding a government of technocrats, excluding the household names that have symbolised Lebanon's sectarian-based politics for generations, which protesters blame for decades of corruption and mismanagement.

Government formation talks have proved tough however and despite pressure from Lebanon's foreign partners and donors, Diab has yet to announce his government.