More than 370 people wounded in Beirut, highest toll since protests started with the ‘Whatsapp tax’

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Protesters threw rocks and pointed green lasers at authorities.

More than 370 people have been injured during several hours of clashes between Lebanese security forces and protesters that rocked central Beirut on Saturday night, emergency workers said.

Key points:

  • Police fired tear gas and unleashed water cannon on the crowds
  • The protests began after the government imposed what is widely known as the “Whatsapp tax”
  • People struggle to withdraw more than a few hundred dollars from banks each week

It was the highest toll on the most violent night since largely peaceful protests erupted across Lebanon in October

As the country sinks deeper into an economic crisis, anger has boiled over at a ruling elite who have dominated power since the 1975-1990 civil war.

Crowds spilled back on to the street near parliament on Sunday.

“We’re not scared. This is all for our future and our children,” said Bassam Taleb, a shoemaker at the protest.

“The country is frozen. The state is not doing a thing, they’re a bunch of thieves. And if you have money in the bank, you can’t even get a hundred dollars out.”

People have also turned their ire on the banks — which have curbed access to savings — with some smashing the facade of the banking association on Saturday night.

The Lebanese Red Cross said it had treated 220 people who were wounded on both sides on Saturday, taking 80 of them to hospital. The Civil Defence said it had given first aid to 114 others and taken 43 people to hospital.

The Internal Security Forces said 142 police were injured.

A Riot police officer fires tear gas from a launcher against anti-government protesters trying to enter parliament square during a protest at a road leading to the parliament building in Beirut, Lebanon

Smoke had enveloped a commercial district of the capital as police fired volleys of tear gas and unleashed water cannons. They chased after hundreds of men and women near Lebanon’s parliament late into the night.

Protesters yelling “revolution” hurled stones, steel barriers and flower pots. They chanted against Lebanon’s speaker and interior minister, trying to storm a heavily barricaded part of central Beirut that includes parliament.

Young men, with their faces covered, ripped branches off trees and signposts off the ground, charging at riot police.

Human Rights Watch said riot police had fired tear gas canisters at the heads of some protesters and rubber bullets at their eyes.

Saad al-Hariri, who resigned as prime minister in October, said there was a way “to calm the popular storm”.

“Stop wasting time, form a government, open the door to political and economic solutions,” he tweeted on Sunday.

In months of protests that have gripped the country and pushed Mr Hariri to quit, politicians wrangling over cabinet seats have failed to agree a new government or a rescue plan.

The protests began with a few dozen people gathering in central Beirut over the imposition of a daily fee of 20 US cents (29 cents) on messaging applications, including WhatsApp.

Meanwhile, the crisis is biting: the Lebanese pound has lost nearly half its value, dollar shortages have driven up prices and confidence in the banking system has collapsed.