Lebanon to release protesters detained after night of riots

AP , Sunday 19 Jan 2020

Riot police
Riot police restrain a protestor during a protest against a ruling elite accused of steering Lebanon towards economic crisis in Beirut, Lebanon January 18, 2020. (Photo: Reuters)

Lebanon's public prosecutor ordered the release Sunday of more than 30 people detained the previous evening, according to the National State News agency, in the worst day of violence since protests erupted three months ago.

The public prosecutor said all 34 arrested are to be released, except those other pending cases.

The clashes took place amid the backdrop of a rapidly worsening financial crisis and an ongoing impasse over the formation of a new government. The Cabinet headed by Prime Minister Saad Hariri resigned in late October.

Protesters have called for more rallies on Sunday.

Riot police fired volleys of tear gas and rubber bullets in Beirut on Saturday to disperse thousands of protesters rallied outside the parliament and in downtown. The protesters, who came from the country's north, east and Beirut, lobbed flares at security forces, metal bars, stones and tree branches.

The pitched street battles lasted for nearly nine hours and were among the worst scene of rioting since protests broke out in mid-October.

At least 220 people were injured in the clashes, according to the Red Cross. More than 80 of those were treated in hospitals, including a protester who sustained an eye injury, as well as security force members. The clashes also took place in the courtyard and steps of a mosque downtown. The top Muslim Sunni Fatwa office called it ``inappropriate'' and said protesters had taken refuge inside the mosque and were taken care of.

Protesters smashed windows and the facade of the headquarters of the country's Banking Association with metal bars. Security forces set fire to a few tents set up by protesters nearby.

The protesters have rallied against the country's political elite who have ruled Lebanon since the end of the 1975-90 civil war. The protesters blame politicians for widespread corruption and mismanagement in a country that has accumulated one of the largest debt ratios in the world.

Panic and anger have gripped the public as their local currency, pegged to the dollar for more than two decades, plummeted. The Lebanese pound lost more than 60% of its value in recent weeks on the black market. The economy has seen no growth and foreign inflows dried up in the already heavily indebted country that relies on imports for most of its basic goods.

Meanwhile, banks have imposed informal capital controls, limiting withdrawal of dollars and foreign transfers.

Prime Minister-designate Hassan Diab had been expected to announce an 18-member Cabinet on Friday, but last minute disputes among political factions scuttled his latest attempt.

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