Dozens arrested following protests outside Lebanon's central bank

A riot policeman fires tear gas against the anti-government protesters during ongoing protests against the Lebanese central bank's governor and against the deepening financial crisis at Hamra trade street in Beirut Lebanon Tuesday Jan. 14 2020

Protesters block Lebanon’s highways again, demand end to political vacuum

Hundreds gathered again outside the central bank on Wednesday evening, moving to a police station where more than 50 people were still detained following clashes between demonstrators and security forces the previous night.

Protesters set garbage dumpsters on fire and threw tear gas canisters back at riot police as ambulance sirens rang out.

A lawyer told local media that 17 protesters were also arrested during the clashes, the latest since Lebanon's anti-government protests demanding sweeping reform began on October 17.

The unprecedented cross-sectarian movement has been fuelled by a crippling economic crisis, the worst since Lebanon's 1975-1990 civil war.

The protesters returned to the streets after several weeks of relative calm, following the designation of Hassan Diab as prime minister in mid-December.

They chanted slogans and demanded the release of their comrades before security forces fired tear gas to disperse them. Lebanon has not had a government since Saad Hariri resigned as prime minister on October 29 under pressure from the protests. "Instead, what politicians have been doing is bickering amongst themselves over seats in the next cabinet".

"Politicians, don't blame the people, blame yourselves for this risky chaos", he said. "What we earn today is not enough to buy the basics for home".

Political rivalries have obstructed a deal on a new cabinet as the crisis hits ordinary people: the Lebanese pound has lost around a half of its value while anger at banking controls have led to rows and violence in branches.

Even as banks cap withdrawals, the value of the Lebanese pound to the United States dollar has fallen by nearly half on the parallel exchange market. "Lebanon is not an easy country to save in", said 40-year-old Riva Daniel, who was among those protesting outside the central bank.

In a televised speech, President Michel Aoun acknowledged the delay in agreeing to a new cabinet line-up but appealed for more time to find suitable candidates.

The long-brewing economic crisis snowballed a year ago as hard currency inflows slowed down, leading to a shortage of dollars needed to finance the state's deficit and import needs.

"The formation of this government demands choosing competent individuals who deserve the trust of the people and parliament, which takes time", he said.

In the northern city of Tripoli and in Akkar province, protesters sat in the streets and blocked several roads with burning tires or bricks.

Hamra attacks "quite frankly target Beirut and its role as capital and economic center concerned with the livelihood of all Lebanese", Hariri said, adding "I will not accept to be a false witness on suspicious missions that could take the whole country to ruin shall the schemes be to smash the souks and neighborhoods of Beirut similar to what happened in Hamra yesterday and in downtown Beirut before that".

The street clashes stretched down one of Beirut's busiest commercial areas and come after a day when protesters resorted to blocking roads to express their impatience at a ruling elite they say has failed to address a fast crumbling economy.

But Lebanese have returned to the streets since Saturday when hundreds gathered across the country to vent their frustration. It condemned the "severe and irresponsible tardiness in forming a new government", saying this made it look like banks were responsible for deteriorating conditions.

The World Bank has warned of a recession that may see the proportion of people living in poverty climb from a third to half the population.

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