BEIRUT – Several hundred Lebanese protesters took to the streets on Saturday, with some throwing stones and demanding the government resign over its handling of a deep economic crisis as hardship increases.
The demonstrators, many wearing face masks and carrying the national flag, converged on a main square in Beirut that was an epicentre for protests last year but which has been mainly quiet over recent months in part due to the coronavirus lockdown.
With most of the virus curbs now lifted and economic conditions worsening, they resumed protests with calls for early parliamentary elections and tougher measures to fight corruption and return looted state funds.
Others demanded that the powerful Shi’ite paramilitary group Hezbollah be disarmed.
“As long as there are militias that are stronger than the state, then it (the government) will not be able to fight corruption,” said John Moukarzel, a real estate company owner.
Some protesters threw rocks at security forces and smashed storefronts in downtown Beirut’s upscale shopping district, prompting security forces to fire tear gas, footage from Lebanese broadcasters showed.
Lebanon’s economic woes have reached new depths in recent months. The pound currency has lost more than half of its value on the parallel market, prices have soared, and companies dealing with the double blow of the coronavirus have axed jobs.
“You can sense that everyone is tired and the situation is very hard, especially the economy, so you can sense that people no longer want to be festive (in their protests). People are just angry,” said protester Marie-nour Hojaimy, a lawyer.
Prime Minister Hassan Diab took office in January with the support of the Iran-backed Hezbollah and its allies after the previous government was toppled by the protests that erupted last October.
Diab’s government is in talks with the International Monetary Fund for an economic reform program it hopes will secure billions of dollars in financing.