Protesters converge on main square in capital Beirut that was an epicentre for protests last year but which has been mainly quiet over recent months in part due to coronavirus lockdown.

Demonstrators gesture during a protest against the government performance and worsening economic conditions, in Beirut, Lebanon, June 6, 2020.
Demonstrators gesture during a protest against the government performance and worsening economic conditions, in Beirut, Lebanon, June 6, 2020. (Reuters)

Several hundred Lebanese protesters took to the streets on Saturday, with some throwing stones and demanding the government resign over its handling of a deep economic crisis as hardship increases.

The demonstrators, many wearing face masks and carrying the national flag, converged on a main square in Beirut that was an epicentre for protests last year but which has been mainly quiet over recent months in part due to the coronavirus lockdown.

With most of the virus curbs now lifted and economic conditions worsening, they resumed protests with calls for early parliamentary elections and tougher measures to fight corruption and return looted state funds.

Protests against paramilitary groups

Others demanded that the powerful Shia paramilitary group Hezbollah be disarmed.

"As long as there are militias that are stronger than the state, then it (the government) will not be able to fight corruption," said John Moukarzel, a real estate company owner.

Some protesters threw rocks at security forces and smashed storefronts in downtown Beirut's upscale shopping district, prompting security forces to fire tear gas, footage from Lebanese broadcasters showed.

Supporters and opponents of Hebzollah also threw stones at each other prompting the army to intervene by forming a human chain to separate them, an AFP photographer said.

Supporters of Hezbollah, which is also represented in the government and parliament, chanted: "Shia, Shia."

Security forces also fired tear gas near a street leading into the parliament building behind Martyrs Square, after some demonstrators pelted them with stones and ransacked shops in the area.

The Lebanese Red Cross said on Twitter 37 people were wounded in Saturday's violence, most of them treated at the scene.

Economic grievances

Lebanon's economic woes have reached new depths in recent months. 

The pound currency has lost more than half of its value on the parallel market, prices have soared, and companies dealing with the double blow of the coronavirus have axed jobs.

"You can sense that everyone is tired and the situation is very hard, especially the economy, so you can sense that people no longer want to be festive (in their protests). People are just angry," said protester Marie-nour Hojaimy, a lawyer.

Prime Minister Hassan Diab took office in January with the support of Hezbollah and its allies after the previous government was toppled by the protests that erupted last October.

Diab's government is in talks with the International Monetary Fund for an economic reform programme it hopes will secure billions of dollars in financing. 

Source: TRTWorld and agencies