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


Syrian businessman George Haswani talks during an interview with Reuters in Damascus, Syria January 27, 2021. REUTERS/Feras Makdesi

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 had 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 cat-and-mouse 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, a witness and police said.

The police did not immediately respond to request for comment on whether live rounds had been fired and whether 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.

State media said Wednesday night's clashes wounded 226 protesters and police. Lebanon's Internal Security Forces said "hand grenades" were thrown, including at a patrol, and injured 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.

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

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