Calm returns to Beirut after clashes

Beirut: Calm returned to Beirut on Wednesday following overnight clashes between anti-government protesters and police, which left dozens of people injured and the main shopping street littered with debris, witnesses and the Lebanese Red Cross said.
Riot police used tear gas to disperse protesters late Tuesday as they tried to remove iron barriers near the Central Bank building on Hamra Street. Protesters responded by hurling stones at the police.
The head of the Lebanese Red Cross, George Kettneh, told dpa that 65people, including protesters and police, were treated for slight injuries.
A statement by the Internal Security Forces said 59 protesters were arrested during the violence.
Caretaker Prime Minister Saad Hariri condemned the riot as “unacceptable”. “This attack targets Beirut and its role as a capital and an economic centre concerned with the livelihood of all the Lebanese,” Hariri said in a tweet. The United Nations Special Coordinator for Lebanon, Jan Kubis, meanwhile denounced the riot, saying “vandalism” is not an appropriate way to express anger.
“Lebanon is truly unique — the BDL [Central Bank] Governor requesting extraordinary powers to at least somehow manage the economy while those responsible watch it collapsing. Incredible,” Kubis said in a tweet apparently aimed at Lebanese politicians whose bickering is hampering the formation of a new government.
According to one coffee shop owner on Hamra street, the protest started peacefully, before unidentified “infiltrators” began to smash the windows of banks and shops as well as ATM machines.
Hamra Street is packed with stores, offices, bookshops, banks and currency exchange bureaux. Rubbish bins, stones and shattered glass filled the road outside the central bank and the entrance to the street early Wednesday. Lebanese demonstrators returned to the streets on Tuesday for what they described as a “week of anger” which they hope will put pressure on the country’s political leaders to introduce drastic reforms.
Lebanon has been gripped by nationwide protests since October 17, leading to the resignation of Prime Minister Saad Hariri.
After a break of several weeks, the reluctance of Lebanese leaders to form a new government and fix the country’s deteriorating economy has reignited protests. On December 19, former education minister and university professor Hassan Diab was designated Lebanon’s new prime minister with the help of the Iran-backed Hezbollah movement and its allies.
Diab has been so far unable to cobble together a government mainly made of technocrats in a bid to extricate Lebanon from its worst economic crisis since the 1975-90 civil war. Hezbollah and its allies insist on forming a government with political figures along with experts.
Lebanon is under pressure from the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund to impose austerity measures in return for financial support. — Reuters