Protests rock Lebanon as anger grows over virus lockdown
BEIRUT – Dozens of Lebanese protesters, enraged at a nearly month-long lockdown to combat the spread of coronavirus, took to the streets of three major cities in Lebanon on Monday.
Demonstrators in Beirut raised slogans, holding the political class responsible for the economic collapse. They blocked a main road in the capital for about half an hour before it was reopened, without confrontation with security forces.
In Tripoli, the country’s second largest city, protests raged for the third day in a row, with demonstrators complaining that their region, the most impoverished in Lebanon, is unable to cope with the nearly month-long lockdown with little to no government assistance. The lockdown is in place until February 8.
The protesters reportedly pelted security forces with stones, prompting them to respond with tear gas to break up the gathering that violated a strict lockdown in place since mid-January aimed at containing a major surge in infection in the small Mediterranean country.
Tripoli was already reeling under the impact of economic crunch and local media has reported violations of the lockdown measures there were most prevalent.
As tension built up, army troops eventually deployed to break up scuffles between security forces and protesters. But protesters continued to trickle into the main square in Tripoli known as al-Nour late into Monday.
The Lebanese Red Cross said it transported four people injured during the clashes.
In the city of Saida in southern Lebanon, a number of citizens also took to the streets and rallied at Elia Junction Square to protest against the deteriorating living conditions and the citizens’ inability to secure their basic needs.
One of the participants in the demonstration, Haitham Arbid, criticised authorities’ decisions and policies that “led the country to collapse,” according to the Lebanese National News Agency.
“The lockdown affected the poor and needy people, and officials must carry out their duties towards the people and secure aid for them,” he added.
Lebanon, a country of nearly 5 million and over 1 million refugees, is going through an unprecedented economic crisis that precedes the pandemic and restrictions imposed to combat it. The currency has tumbled, losing over 80% of its values; banks have imposed controls on withdrawals and transfers and unemployment and inflation skyrocketed.
Meanwhile, coronavirus infections surged in recent weeks, partially blamed on government measures to relax restrictions during the holiday seasons when tens of thousands of expat Lebanese were visiting. Hospitals have since registered near full occupancy of ICU beds and supplies were running out.
The cash-strapped government struggles to provide assistance to the crisis-struck population, half of which has been driven into poverty, mostly over the last year.