Lebanon News

Lebanon's economy protests turn violent

Anti-government protesters gather outside a branch of the Central Bank in Sidon, April 27, 2020. (The Daily Star/Mohammed Zaatari)

BEIRUT: Protesters took to the streets in various areas across Lebanon Monday evening for the second consecutive night, defying coronavirus lockdown measures as the country’s economy nears collapse.

Protesters burned tires and blocked roads in Sidon, Tripoli, and various areas in Beirut. They also demonstrated in front of MP Faysal Karami’s residence in Tripoli..

Protests turned violent in Tripoli’s Abdel Hamid Square, when demonstrators heavily clashed with Army personnel, leading to at least 20 injuries from both parties, with two in a critical condition.

Gunfire and rubber bullets were also reported at the scene by local media. The Lebanese Red Cross dispatched six teams and firefighters rushed to put out fires in the area from burnt tires, to bank exteriors.

The Army issued a statement Monday night saying that during the protests in the Abdel Hamid Square “a number of infiltrators carried out riots and vandalized public property, and burned branches on banks.”

According to the statement Army personnel deployed in the area were “attacked by the infiltrators, a military vehicle was targeted by Molotov cocktails, with another vehicle targeted by hand grenades,” which lightly wounded two soldiers.

The Army’s command called on protesters to leave the streets and empty the squares.

Several banks in Tripoli were also vandalized Monday night, including a BLF bank branch which was set on fire, on the heels of Molotov cocktail attacks on banks in Sidon and Tyre on previous nights, as anger mounts against lenders who have imposed arbitrary capital controls on deposits and as the local currency depreciates sharply against the U.S. dollar.

The Association of Banks announced in a statement the closure of all banks in Tripoli until the situation is stabilized.

A number of protesters hurled fireworks and rocks at the exterior of the Central Bank’s branch in Sidon, with security forces interfering.

The scene of clashes in Tripoli calmed out later on, as the injured were taken to hospitals, and only Army personnel remained at the scene.

Earlier in the day, demonstrators across different areas also voiced their anger over the dire economic situation, with clashes taking place on the highway near Zouk Mosbeh between protesters and the Army as the latter tried to reopen the road.

Thousands of people in Lebanon have lost their jobs and closed down their businesses, while others have seen the value of their salaries in Lebanese pounds erode further by the day and inflation rates surge.

Many protesters have declared their indifference regarding contracting coronavirus, as they are “already dying from hunger.”

Desperation and anger are driving people to the streets despite public health concerns, as Lebanon battles an unprecedented economic and financial crisis, exacerbated by the coronavirus lockdown.

Meanwhile, the Syndicate of Exchange Dealers released a statement announcing exchange shops would begin an open-ended strike starting Tuesday, until the release of those of their peers who had been arrested.

The Internal Security Forces said Monday they detained exchange dealers violating the Central Bank’s LL3,200 cap on the rate of the dollar, stopping more than 10 dealers and closing down their shops.

Exchange dealers told The Daily Star the dollar had been trading at around LL4,000 Monday in some areas.

 

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