Angry protesters in country’s ‘poorest city’ denounce enforcement of strict coronavirus lockdown with little aid from authorities.
Lebanon’s second city of Tripoli has witnessed its third straight night of angry protests and riots, with hundreds of people taking to the streets to denounce harsh living conditions and meagre government aid during a strict coronavirus lockdown.
Security forces on Wednesday used water cannon in an attempt to disperse the crowd who were apparently attempting to break into an official building near the northern city’s central Al Nour Square.
The square became a hub of protest action during Lebanon’s October 2019 uprising against the country’s entrenched political class, whose corruption and mismanagement has led Lebanon into a devastating financial crisis.
The latest protests come nearly three weeks into a nationwide lockdown over the coronavirus that aims to stop the country’s healthcare sector from collapsing amid a significant surge in the number of new cases and the number of COVID-related deaths. The small Mediterranean nation of about six million has so far recorded more than 285,000 cases and 2,477 deaths, with a record 73 deaths on Tuesday.
Protesters started to converge on Tripoli’s main square – people say they can’t cope w/ coronavirus lockdown without economic support from the Govt #Lebanon – there have been two nights of violence pic.twitter.com/vJSlyPzCPb
— Zeina Khodr (@ZeinakhodrAljaz) January 27, 2021
But the heavy lockdown, which forces almost all businesses to close and almost everyone to remain home, was rolled out without economic support, in a country where more than half the population is poor.
“People are angry and are saying they can no longer survive … or make ends meet,” said Al Jazeera’s Zeina Khodr, reporting from Tripoli, adding that protesters in Lebanon’s “most impoverished city” denounced the lockdown as “an added burden to their struggle”.
“Many work in the informal sector, which means they do not get any government assistance,” Khodr said.
At least 47 civilians have been injured since the protests began on Monday night, with at least a dozen requiring hospitalisation, according to figures from the Lebanese Red Cross.
Security forces and the Lebanese army said dozens of their members also sustained injuries, though they did not provide more details.
Two separate videos from Wednesday’s protests appear to show petrol bombs being thrown by rioters at the Tripoli Serail, an official building, as some in the crowd cheer. Petrol bombs were also thrown towards security forces on previous nights.
Security forces, meanwhile, used large amounts of tear gas and rubber bullets against the crowd.
Smaller groups of protesters held their own demonstrations across the country on Tuesday and Wednesday, including in the capital, Beirut, the eastern Bekaa Valley and southern Jiyeh and Tyre.
The current lockdown is scheduled to remain in place until February 8.
Officials plan to begin a vaccination drive by mid-February, with caretaker Health Minister Hamad Hasan saying on Wednesday they aimed to vaccinate 80 percent of the population by the end of the year.
With reporting by Timour Azhari in Beirut, Lebanon