WED 8 - 7 - 2020
Date: Apr 28, 2020
Source: The Daily Star
Lebanon's economy protests turn violent
Protester dies after clashes with Army in Tripoli
Houshig Kaymakamian| The Daily Star
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.

Protester dies after clashes with Army in Tripoli
The Daily Star
BEIRUT: A 26-year-old man died Tuesday of wounds suffered during overnight clashes between protesters and the Lebanese Army in the northern city of Tripoli.

The sister of Fawaz Fouad Samman confirmed in a Facebook post that her brother died from his wounds after being shot with a live bullet the previous evening.

“My brother Fawaz Fouad al-Samman, 26, was martyred and died of his wounds sustained from a live bullet fired during revolutionary clashes with the Army yesterday in Tripoli,” Fatima Fouad wrote.

At least 20 other protesters were injured during the confrontation in Tripoli’s Abdel-Hamid Square Monday night.

Protesters denouncing the dire living conditions, economic situation and tumbling value of the Lebanese pound vented their anger by burning tires, vandalizing banks and blocking roads not just in Tripoli, but also in Sidon and parts of Beirut.

The Lebanese Army put out a statement Monday night branding some of the protesters as “infiltrators” and called on peaceful protesters to return to their homes. It said four soldiers were injured after being attacked with a hand grenade and a fire bomb.

“Army Command warns that it will not tolerate any breach of security and stability or anyone tempted to violate civil peace,” an Army statement issued Tuesday morning said.

The state-run National News Agency reported Tuesday that the Army carried out several raids to arrest protesters who burned Army equipment and who smashed bank facades and threw petrol bombs at cash machines.

Human Rights Watch’s Lebanon Researcher Aya Majzoub called upon the Army Tuesday morning to “urgently conduct an independent and transparent investigation into [Samman’s] death, and hold those responsible accountable.”

Protesters blockade roads across Lebanon despite lockdown

The Daily Star
BEIRUT: Protesters blocked off roads across Lebanon Monday to denounce the plummeting value of the Lebanese pound on the parallel market and rising living costs.

Throughout the day, security forces attempted to reopen several roads that demonstrators blocked off, some with burning tires in areas including the Bekaa Valley, Akkar, the Byblos and Jounieh highways, Beirut’s Martyrs’ Square and the Al-Bireh-Qobeiyat main road.

Protesters also blocked off the Baalchmary-Bhamdoun road in Aley and the Abdeh-Minieh road at the Nahr al-Bared bridge.

Dozens of angry protesters gathered along the Zouk Mosbeh highway north of Beirut Monday despite coronavirus lockdown measures.

“Nobody is listening to us, how can we get our voice heard,” one woman told local television channel Al-Jadeed. “Our salary has become $200. Are we waiting for magic? We gave the government a grace period but it has done nothing.”

The Lebanese Army deployed in large numbers to prevent the protesters from blocking the main road, occasionally scuffling with them to hold them back.

The protest caused a small amount of congestion but motorists seemed unbothered, many of them honking in support as they drove past. “We are with them 100 percent,” one trucker told LBCI.

The Lebanese pound last week reached is lowest ever value on the parallel exchange market, with exchangers selling and buying the dollar for around LL4,000. This has ravaged people’s purchasing power and imports of essential goods have become more expensive.

“If they’re going to put us in prison, let them. At least we’ll eat there,” one man told MTV. “We are dying from hunger now.”

Another man claimed to local media that his 12-year-old son had not eaten for five days and that he only had LL40,000 left from his savings.

While the people have been going hungry from living costs that rose by as much as 45 percent in the last quarter of 2019 according to Consumer Lebanon, politicians and banking sector officials have been trying to shift the blame for 30 years of economic and financial mismanagement onto each other.

This did not wash with protesters Monday, many of whom repeated the well-known refrain of the Oct. 17 uprising, “all of them means all of them.”

“We are focusing on all of them, they all need to be held to account,” one man told LBCI. “The revolution doesn’t have a religion. We demand the resignation of the prime minster and early parliamentary elections.”

A small group of protesters also gathered in Martyrs’ Square in Downtown Beirut Monday afternoon to protest the Central Bank’s inability to curb the spiraling exchange rate.

Menwhile, the protests led Health Minister Hamad Hasan to suspend for a day nationwide testing for COVID-19.

Hasan said in a statement that he hoped the teams carrying out testing would not be diverted from their work again by any protests, “given the necessity of their work in evaluating the reality of epidemic in Lebanon.”

The coronavirus pandemic has infected 710 people in Lebanon and claimed the lives of 24 among them.

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