Beirut shaken by 'barbaric' protests crackdown

17 Janvier, 2020, 07:57 | Auteur: Anatole Charbonneau
  • Anti-government protesters smash a bank widow during ongoing protests against the Lebanese central bank's governor and against the deepening financial crisis at Hamra trade street in Beirut Lebanon Tuesday Jan. 14 2020. Lebanese security force

The Lebanese Red Cross reported that a total of 47 people were injured on Wednesday night, 37 of whom were taken to nearby hospitals.

In downtown Beirut, dozens rallied outside the Central Bank, chanting against the governor and his financial policies.

The Lawyers' Committee to Defend Protesters in Lebanon estimates that security forces have arrested as many as 100 people across the country, including five children (under 18 years) since Tuesday night. The clashes ended a day of rallies that followed a lull in the three-months-long protests. In the southern city of Sidon, dozens of protesters marched down the streets, rallying outside banks and government offices.

The top United Nations official in Lebanon on Wednesday denounced acts of vandalism by protesters targeting the country's banks a day earlier. In September, banks began limiting the number of dollars customers can withdraw or transfer overseas in a country where consumers use the greenback and the Lebanese pound interchangeably.

Security officials said the situation on the streets escalated when "vandals" began attacking security forces and "trying to force their way inside" the central bank. Protests have taken place inside commercial banks over the last few weeks as depositors tried to access their accounts.

Security forces meanwhile imposed tight movement restrictions in Hamra, closing the main road to the central bank.

Police officers resorted to tear gas to disperse the protesters, with several tear grenades having exploded near the Russian diplomatic mission.

Even as banks cap withdrawals, the value of the Lebanese pound to the U.S. dollar has fallen by nearly half of the parallel exchange market.

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The central bank has announced it is investigating capital flight, saying it wants to standardise and regulate the ad hoc banking restrictions.

Lebanon's central bank has asked banks to review transfers of funds overseas by politicians and government employees between October 17 and December 31, when anti-government protests led banks to enforce informal capital controls that blocked such transfers.

Its under-fire politicians have yet to agree on a new cabinet despite the designation last month of Hassan Diab, a professor and former education minister, to replace Hariri.

Late Wednesday and Thursday, authorities began releasing detainees.

Hariri called the rampage "unacceptable", while parliament speaker Nabih Berri questioned whether the aim was to "destroy the country".

"Another day of confusion around the formation of a government, amidst the increasingly angry protests and free-falling economy", Jan Kubis, the UN's envoy to Lebanon, wrote on Twitter on Wednesday.

In the course of quoting Kubis' remarks, Deutsche Welle noted that one major complaint of the protesters is that ordinary people can not get their money out of the banks, but "politicians, senior civil servants, and financiers" were able to transfer their money overseas for safekeeping while the Lebanese financial system collapsed.

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