Wide protests in Lebanon against ruling elite over economic corruption

Tens of Thousands protests in Beirut demanding the demise of a political elite they accuse of looting the economy to the point of collapse as security forces fired tear gas and chased down.

Riot police in vehicles and on foot rounded up protesters, according to Reuters witnesses. They fired rubber bullets and tear gas canisters, dispersing demonstrators in Beirut’s commercial district. Dozens of people were wounded and detained.

Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri blamed his partners in government for obstructing reforms that could ward off economic crisis and gave them a 72-hour deadline to stop blocking him, otherwise hinting he may resign.

Hariri, addressing protesters, said Lebanon was going through an “unprecedented, difficult time”.

Lebanon’s biggest protests in a decade recall the 2011 Arab revolts that toppled four presidents. Lebanese from all sects and walks of life have come out on to the streets, waving banners and chanting slogans urging Hariri’s government to go.

The rallies follow warnings by economists and investors that Lebanon’s economy and graft-riddled financial system are closer to the brink than at any time since the war-torn 1980s.

“There are those who have placed obstacles in front of me … and in the face of all the efforts that I have proposed for reform,” Hariri said, without naming names.

“Whatever the solution, we no longer have time and I am personally giving myself only a little time. Either our partners in government and in the nation give a frank response to the solution, or I will have another say,” he said.

“The deadline left is very short. It’s 72 hours.”

Protesters poured through villages and towns as well as the capital Beirut for a second day. No political leader, Muslim or Christian, was spared their wrath.

Their chants called for leaders including Hariri, President Michel Aoun, and Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri to step down.

The mood was a mixture of rage, defiance and hope.

As night fell, crowds waving Lebanese flags marched through the streets as patriotic music blared from loudspeakers. They shouted: “Our demands are one, our objective is one: the people want the downfall of the regime.”

Some protesters fainted as security forces fired tear gas. The Red Cross said its teams had treated 160 people wounded in protests since Thursday evening.

“You should be protecting us. Shame on you,” a young man yelled as he covered his face against the choking fumes.

Lebanon’s internal security apparatus said 52 police were injured on Friday and its forces arrested 70 people.

Some protesters, including men in black hoods, blocked roads, set tyres on fire and used iron bars to smash storefronts in Beirut’s posh downtown district.

As fires blazed, some streets in the capital looked like a battlefield, strewn with rubber bullets, smashed up cars, broken glass and torn billboards. Firefighters struggled late into the night to douse the flames.

With demonstrators crowding around Aoun’s palace in Baabda, the United Nations urged all sides to refrain from actions that could lead to more tensions and violence.

Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates warned their citizens against traveling to Lebanon. Bahrain told its nationals to leave at once.

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