The US embassy in Beirut has sided with thousands of Lebanese protesters who have clashed with riot police after a devastating blast that ripped through the country’s capital this week.
“The Lebanese people have suffered too much and deserve to have leaders who listen to them and change course to respond to popular demands for transparency and accountability,” the embassy tweeted on Saturday.
The diplomatic mission added it supported the right of Lebanese people to “peaceful” protest and encouraged “all involved to refrain from violence”.
2/2 We support them in their right to peaceful protest, and encourage all involved to refrain from violence.— U.S. Embassy Beirut (@usembassybeirut) August 8, 2020
The statement came in response to mass protests that gripped Beirut on Saturday, with thousands of demonstrators occupying several government ministries and attempting to storm the Parliament building.
Some of the demonstrators shouted slogans like, “The people want the fall of the regime” — a popular chant of the Arab Spring era — and “Revolution, Revolution”.
Shots were heard in the streets and police fired tear gas as rock-hurling protesters clashed with security forces. One police officer was killed and another 70 were injured, according to the authorities.
Al Jazeera reported on Sunday that as many as 728 people were hurt on Saturday; an earlier report by the local channel Al-Manar, citing emergency medical services, put that number at 490.
Hours after the protests erupted, Lebanese Prime Minister Hassan Diab said he would propose holding an early election to the cabinet on Monday. He added that he was willing to remain in office for two more months while the government would implement “structural reforms”.
Lebanon, which was already going through its worst economic crisis since the end of the civil war in 1990, faced new political and financial woes after a 4 August blast in Beirut, which flattened the city’s main port.
The explosion, blamed by authorities on poorly stored ammonium nitrate, killed at least 158 people and injured more than 6,000. Dozens of foreign governments, including those of Russia, the United States, the United Kingdom, the European Union, and the UAE, have sent humanitarian aid or medics to Lebanon.
The US government aid agency, USAID, said on Saturday: “United States has long supported the Lebanese people's pursuit of economic prosperity and accountable governance, free of corruption and foreign pressure.”