A protester has been killed during anti-corruption demonstrations in Beirut, the first fatality since mass demonstrations began in the Lebanese capital on Saturday, the Red Cross has said.
The death comes as scores of people were injured in clashes between anti-government protesters and Lebanese police officers.
Ambulances ferried out casualties after security forces fired tear gas, rubber bullets and water cannon at demonstrators protesting against what they call Lebanon’s “political dysfunction”.
About 200 youths, some wearing scarves or masks to cover their faces, threw stones and bottles filled with sand at police and tried to pull down security barricades, the AFP news agency reported.
Some of those injured had suffered smoke inhalation, and at least 40 were hospitalised according to the Lebanese Red Cross.
Organisers of the “You Stink” protests said on their Facebook page that they have postponed a protest scheduled on Monday, and are expected to hold a news conference on Monday afternoon to explain why it has been postponed and until when.
On Saturday, at least 16 were injured during clashes with police, according to a Red Cross official, while the Internal Security Forces said more than 35 of its members were also hurt.
Al Jazeera’s Jamal Elshayyal, reporting from Beirut, said the protests drew people from across the political spectrum, and the grievances expressed extended beyond the original anger at the government’s failure to remove rubbish.
“There is no political party that has called for these protests, it is very much a grassroots movement that has come out on to the streets,” he said.
“The protests were triggered by the trash crisis but the people we’ve been speaking to say that was the straw that broke the camel’s back … they point to power shortages, water shortages, and inherent corruption within the state.”
Earlier, in a televised address on Sunday morning, Prime Minister Tammam Salam said members of the security forces will be held accountable for the violence against protesters . Salam also called on an emergency parliament session on Thursday to deal with the country’s ongoing political crisis.
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“I have been, like many other fellow Lebanese, patient enough, but yesterday’s outcry should not be ignored,” he said.
“I was never in this for a position in government, I am one of you. I am with the people. Do not pit this conflict [as] one camp against the other. Target all the politicians.”
Angered by Salam’s speech on Sunday, a number of the protesters chanted: “The people want the fall of the regime”.
Weeks of anger
Tensions in Lebanon have peaked recently after protests against the government’s inability to ensure that rubbish is disposed of effectively.
Last month the country was left with mounting piles of rubbish after politicians, divided by regional and local conflict, were unable to agree where to dump the capital’s refuse.
The crisis was temporarily resolved when the rubbish was finally cleared, but bickering within the government over which company to award the new contract has exposed it to allegations of corruption from opponents.
The prime minister said on Sunday that if legislators could not reach an agreement on the rubbish crisis on Thursday, there is a possibility the government will be dissolved.
“If the meeting is not productive, there is no need for the council of ministers all together,” Salam said.
An online group named “You Stink!” along with other civil society groups organised this weekend’s protests, calling on Lebanese people to join them in a revolt against what they call “a corrupt system”.
Azza El Masri, who is part of the “You Stink” campaign told Al Jazeera that protesters are not backing down and the protests will continue.
“We want Tammam Salam and all the political class to resign. When people were chanting that they wanted to topple the regime yesterday, they were serious. We want to topple [the government], and we won’t stop until we do,” El Masri said.
” YouReek or YouStink [protesters] have vowed to stay at Riad al-Solh until the minister of environment resigns, until those who were randomly arrested are freed, and until the riot police are held accountable for the violence,” El Masri added.
Joey Ayoub, one of the organisers of “You Stink” who was present during the protests on Saturday and Sunday, told Al Jazeera protesters were met with police brutality, tear gas canisters and water cannon.
“As one of those who helped organise this protest, I can safely tell you that the government’s reaction was beyond anything we were expecting,” Ayoub told Al Jazeera.
Additional reporting by Diana Al Rifai
|Police fired tear gas, rubber bullets and water cannon as they clashed with thousands of protesters in downtown Beirut [Reuters]|