A 30-year-old man has died after security forces fired live rounds during violent clashes between protesters and riot police in Lebanon, with 226 people reported injured.
Earlier this month Lebanon introduced one of the strictest coronavirus-related lockdowns in the world, beginning a two-week 24-hour curfew. But existing anger over everyday quality of life in a country suffering from a spiralling economic crisis bubbled over into street protests.
In Tripoli, north of Lebanon, and several other smaller towns, riot police used teargas, water cannon, rubber bullets and live rounds to disperse angry crowds throwing stones, and trying to enter Saraya, Tripoli’s city hall and the house of government offices.
Lebanon declared a national health emergency earlier this month after a surge in coronavirus cases, fearing hospitals becoming overwhelmed. The 24-hour curfew was meant to be in place until the 8th of February, with food shops open for delivery only, a luxury few can afford as the economy plunged into a deeper crisis in the past year.
The economic meltdown weighs heavily on poorer peoples especially, with the Lebanese pound losing 80 percent of its value. As the financial crisis bites, the mood in the country has soured into hopelessness, as unemployment and inflation soar. People have even been unable to access their savings after banks imposed informal capital controls.
The economic crisis in Lebanon has gone hand-in-hand with a political crisis, both compounded by the devastating explosion at Beirut’s port last year.
Politically, Lebanon has reverted back to a power-sharing system that gives the premiership to a Sunni Muslim, part of a three-way division that allocates the presidency to the Christians, and a sees a Shiite Muslim chairing parliament. But this mechanism, set up to ensure all sectarian and religious groups' representation, has led to corruption, nepotism, and the gradual slide of the economy into ruins.
In Tripoli, around half of its 227,000 residents live under the poverty line and have to risk their families going hungry if they follow the latest government guidelines, as daily wages are the primary sources of income for most.
International reports on the economic situation in the country show extreme poverty rising to 22 percent of the 6 million-strong population in 2020, with almost half living in poverty.
Caretaker Prime Minister Hassan Diab, who is due to hand the premiership over to former PM Saad Hariri, criticised the protesters during a cabinet meeting on Wednesday and said the latest lockdown measures had staved off a national disaster. He also announced the second round of a $266 handout to 250,000 families to ease pressure on people affected the most by the curfew.
"The government is neither formed nor disrupted by burning tires, blocking roads, attacking state institutions, and targeting internal security forces and the Lebanese army," said Diab.
"There may be parties behind the moves in Tripoli that want to send political messages and there may be those who take advantage of the people's pain and the living distress that the poor and those with income suffer from," Hariri wrote in a tweet, without pointing the blame at any particular group.