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Lebanon deploys security forces in Beirut before parliamentary session

(Smiling?) Demonstrators gesture near Lebanese police during the ongoing anti-government protest, in Beirut, Lebanon, November 19, 2019. REUTERS/Mohamed Azakir

Lebanese security forces scuffled with protesters as they sought to prevent lawmakers from attending a session of parliament on Tuesday, continuing a month-long wave of demonstrations against politicians blamed for taking Lebanon towards economic collapse.

As a result the session is expected to be postponed on Tuesday and is expected to be formally announced by Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri later on Tuesday.

Queues built at banks that reopened after a one-week closure, with police deployed at branches and banks imposing tight restrictions on hard currency withdrawals and transfers abroad.

Lebanon has slid further into economic crisis since the protests erupted on Oct. 17. The political situation has been deadlocked since Saad al-Hariri resigned as prime minister on Oct. 29, with no progress towards a deal on a new government.

Gunfire was heard as a group of several dozen protesters forced two SUVs with official number plates and tinted windows to turn back as they approached the parliament, footage broadcast by Lebanese broadcasters showed.

The vehicles sped away after they were struck by demonstrators chanting “Out, out, out,” the footage showed.

One lawmaker told Reuters he had stayed away from parliament and expected the session to be cancelled.

Riot police scuffled with a group of protesters who were trying to use a cable to remove a barbed wire barricade blocking a road near parliament, a Reuters witness said.

“How are they holding a session and not responding to the people? Those that are in the session have nothing to do with us, and it’s not what we asked for,” said a protester who gave her name as Maria.

The protests have been fuelled by perceptions of corruption among the sectarian politicians who have governed Lebanon for decades and are blamed for leading the country into its worst economic crisis since the 1975-90 civil war.

“This confrontation should not happen,” caretaker finance minister Ali Hassan Khalil told reporters outside parliament.

“Protesters have the right to demonstrate but lawmakers also have the right to go to perform their duties,” he said.

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