Lebanese police fired tear gas to try to disperse rock-throwing protesters blocking a road near parliament in Beirut yesterday in a second day of anti-government demonstrations triggered by last week’s devastating explosion.
Fire broke out at an entrance to Parliament Square as demonstrators tried to break into a cordoned-off area, TV footage showed.
Protesters also broke into the housing and transport ministry offices.
Tuesday’s blast of more than 2,000 tonnes of ammonium nitrate killed 158 people and injured more than 6,000, compounding months of political and economic collapse and prompting furious calls for the government to quit.
Meanwhile, Lebanon’s environment minister resigned from Prime Minister Hassan Diab’s government, saying the government had lost a number of opportunities to reform, a statement said.
Damianos Kattar’s departure follows the resignation of Information Minister Manal Abdel Samad earlier yesterday in the wake of the explosion that rocked Beirut on Tuesday.
Riot police wearing body armour and carrying batons clashed with demonstrators as thousands converged on Parliament Square and nearby Martyrs’ Square, a Reuters correspondent said.
“We gave these leaders so many chances to help us and they always failed.
We want them all out, especially Hezbollah, because it’s a militia and just intimidates people with its weapons,” Walid Jamal, an unemployed demonstrator, said, referring to the country’s most influential armed grouping that has ministers in the government.
The country’s top Christian Maronite cleric, Patriarch Bechara Boutros al-Rai, said the cabinet should resign as it cannot “change the way it governs”.
“The resignation of an MP or a minister is not enough...the whole government should resign as it is unable to help the country recover,” he said in his Sunday sermon.
Anger boiled over into violent scenes in central Beirut on Saturday. Those protests were the biggest since October when thousands of people took to the streets to demand an end to corruption, bad governance and mismanagement.
About 10,000 people gathered at Martyrs’ Square, which was transformed into a battle zone in the evening between police and protesters who tried to break down a barrier along a road leading to parliament.
Some demonstrators stormed government ministries and the Association of Lebanese Banks.
One policeman was killed and the Red Cross said more than 170 people were injured in clashes. “The police fired at me. But that won’t stop us from demonstrating until we change the government from top to bottom,” Younis Flayti, 55, a retired army officer, said yesterday. Nearby, mechanic Sabir Jamali sat beside a noose attached to a wooden frame in Martyrs’ Square, intended as a symbolic warning to Lebanese leaders to resign or face hanging.
“Every leader who oppresses us should be hanged,” he said, adding he will protest again.
Lawyer Maya Habli surveyed the demolished port. “People should sleep in the streets and demonstrate against the government until it falls,” she said.
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