Lebanon protests turn violent as lockdown strains economy
One dead and scores of people were wounded when protesters tried to storm a government building
Beirut — A man was killed in the Lebanese city of Tripoli on Thursday in clashes between security forces and protesters angry over a strict coronavirus lockdown that has cut off livelihoods in a collapsing economy.
Omar Taybah was hit by a bullet overnight, according to a local hospital that treated him, a security source and residents. Dozens marched at his funeral later in the day.
Witnesses and local media said police fired live bullets overnight as protesters tried to storm the northern city's government building. Scores of people were wounded.
Security forces fired teargas and rubber bullets at protesters who hurled stones and Molotov cocktails, witnesses and police said.
The police did not respond to a question on whether they had fired live rounds and whether a protester was killed.
Reuters footage showed sparks hitting the ground, apparently from ricocheting bullets, with the sound of gunfire.
It was the third straight night of violence in one of Lebanon's poorest cities, after the government imposed a 24-hour nationwide curfew in January to curb the spread of Covid-19, which has killed more than 2,500. The curfew has since been extended to mid-February.
Caretaker Prime Minister Hassan Diab has said the lockdown was necessary.
“People are tired. There's poverty, misery, lockdown and there's no work ... Our problem is the politicians,” said Samir Agha at the protest.
ICU wards full
Aid workers say the lockdown is piling extra hardship on the poor, now more than half the population, with little government aid. A currency crash has triggered fears of rising hunger.
Still, Lebanese leaders have yet to launch a rescue plan or enact reforms to unlock aid, prompting rebuke including from foreign donors.
Lebanon's security forces said rioters threw hand grenades, including at a patrol, injuring at least nine officers. They said they would respond with “full severity and decisiveness”.
Human Rights Watch called for an investigation into Thursday's death. “The government neglected the needs of Tripoli's people and used brute force ... when they demanded a better life,” researcher Aya Majzoub said.
The Red Cross said it took 35 people to hospitals, which are struggling with some of the region's highest Covid-19 infection levels.
Lebanon's financial meltdown, it worst crisis since the 1975/1990 civil war, erupted in 2019, sparking protests across the country against leaders who oversaw decades of state graft.
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