In locked-down Lebanon, Tripoli protester killed in night of unrest


  • World
  • Thursday, 28 Jan 2021

Demonstrators are pictured near smoke rising from tear gas during a protest against the lockdown and worsening economic conditions, amid the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Tripoli, Lebanon January 27, 2021. REUTERS/Omar Ibrahim

BEIRUT/TRIPOLI (Reuters) - A Lebanese man was killed in Tripoli on Thursday in clashes between security forces and protesters angry that a strict lockdown has left them with no means to survive the economy's collapse.

Witnesses and local media said riot police fired live bullets as protesters tried to storm the northern city's government building.

A 30-year-old man died overnight from his wounds after the clashes injured scores of people, residents and local media said. A security source said the protester had been hit by a bullet.

Security forces fired tear gas and rubber bullets at protesters who threw stones, hurled Molotov cocktails and lit a car on fire, witnesses and police said.

The police did not immediately respond to a question on whether live rounds had been fired and a protester was killed.

Reuters footage showed sparks hitting the ground, apparently from ricocheting bullets, and the sound of gunfire.

"People are tired. There's poverty, misery, lockdown and there's no work... Our problem is the politicians," said Samir Agha at the protest before the unrest.

It marked the third straight night of violence in one of Lebanon's poorest cities, after the government imposed a 24-hour curfew this month to curb a COVID-19 outbreak that has killed more than 2,500.

HARDSHIP

Aid workers warn that with little to no aid, the lockdown is piling extra hardship on the poor, now more than half the population. Many rely on daily wages.

Human Rights Watch called for an investigation into the protester's death on Thursday. "The government neglected the needs of Tripoli's people and used brute force...when they demanded a better life," researcher Aya Majzoub said.

State media said the clashes had wounded 226 protesters and police. Lebanon's Internal Security Forces said hand grenades were thrown, including at a patrol, injuring at least nine officers. They pledged to respond with "full severity and decisiveness".

The Red Cross said rescuers took 35 people to hospitals, which are fighting high COVID-19 infection levels even as they cope with damage from the huge August explosion at Beirut port.

With many ICU wards full, caretaker Prime Minister Hassan Diab said on Wednesday the lockdown was necessary.

Lebanon's financial meltdown, which crashed the currency, poses the greatest risk to its stability since the 1975-1990 civil war. The crisis erupted in late 2019, sparking protests across the country against leaders who oversaw decades of graft.

Politicians have since failed to launch a rescue plan or enact reforms to trigger badly-needed foreign aid.

(Reporting by Ellen Francis in Beirut and Walid Saleh in Tripoli; Additional reporting by Imad Creidi in Beirut and Alaa Swilam in Cairo; Writing by Ellen Francis; Editing by Rosalba O'Brien, William Maclean)

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