Lebanon should investigate use of force in protests: Amnesty

Reuters News
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Posted: Aug 29, 2015 5:40 AM

BEIRUT (Reuters) - Lebanon should investigate allegations that security personnel used excessive force to disperse anti-government protesters in Beirut last week, Amnesty International said on Saturday ahead of another planned mass protest march in the capital.

Protests drew thousands onto the streets before turning violent last weekend, injuring dozens and triggering a threat from Prime Minister Tammam Salam to resign as head of the national unity government.

Another demonstration is planned in central Beirut starting at 6 p.m. (11.00 a.m. EDT). The "You Stink" campaign has mobilized independently of the main sectarian parties after the government failed to agree on a plan to dispose of Lebanon's uncollected trash, leaving piles of refuse rotting in the summer sun.

Security forces last week had fired water cannons and teargas against demonstrators, some of whom threw stones and sticks at riot police.

"Lebanese security officials responded to overwhelmingly peaceful protesters in downtown Beirut by shooting into the air with live rounds, firing rubber bullets, tear gas canisters, and water cannons, and in some cases hurling stones and beating protesters with batons and rifles," said Lama Fakih, Senior Crisis Adviser at Amnesty International.

Protest organizers have blamed the violence on "infiltrators" linked to political movements and Salam has vowed to bring to account officials responsible for what he has described as an excessive use of force.

"The use of violence by some protesters does not absolve the security forces from blame over targeting of the overwhelmingly peaceful protest movement more broadly," Fakih said.

Amnesty, quoting figures from the Red Cross, said that at least 343 people were treated for injuries and 59 more were hospitalized after the protests.

For the protesters, the mounds of festering trash reflect the failings of a state they say is rotten with corruption from the inside out. They have called for the environment minister to resign, for snap parliamentary elections and a transparent resolution to the garbage crisis.

Protesters handed out leaflets stating their demands in Beirut on Saturday and a number camped out overnight in a square close to the government headquarters where security forces have installed additional concrete barricades and barbed wire.

Failure to agree a solution has exposed wider political deadlock in Lebanon, where sectarian and power rivalries have been stoked by the Syrian war next door.

The government has said it is working to find a plan for the garbage but agreement has proven elusive. On Tuesday the powerful Shi'ite Muslim party Hezbollah and its Christian allies walked out of an emergency cabinet meeting in protest at a proposed disposal plan.

(Reporting by Sylvia Westall; Editing by Mark Heinrich)