Clashes in impoverished Lebanese city as crisis deepens

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The clashes got underway in the afternoon hours after a tense funeral was held for a 27-year-old man killed during riots overnight in Lebanon’s second-largest city.

Source: Associated Press

Lebanese army soldiers run in front of a Credit Libanais Bank that was set on fire by anti-government protesters, in the northern city of Tripoli, Lebanon. (AP Photo)

TRIPOLI: Hundreds of protesters in Lebanon’s northern city of Tripoli set fire Tuesday to two banks and hurled stones at soldiers, who responded with tear gas and batons in renewed clashes triggered by an economic crisis spiraling out of control amid a weeks-long virus lockdown.

The clashes got underway in the afternoon hours after a tense funeral was held for a 27-year-old man killed during riots overnight in Lebanon’s second-largest city. Fawwaz Samman was shot by soldiers during confrontations that began Monday night and died in a hospital hours later.

Tripoli is one of the most neglected and poorest cities in Lebanon.

The violence is a reflection of the rising poverty and despair gripping the country amid a crippling economic and financial crisis that has worsened since October when nationwide protests broke out. A lockdown to stem the spread of the new coronavirus has further aggravated the crisis, throwing tens of thousands more people out of work. The national currency has lost more than 50% of its value, and banks have imposed crippling capital controls amid a liquidity crunch.

“What you’re seeing is a result of accumulated problems. We had a revolution, people were suffering, then came corona, and people were locked in their homes for a month and a half without the state securing food and drink or anything for them,” said protester Abdelaziz Sarkousi, 47. “Now we have reached a state where unfortunately you cannot control people anymore. People are hungry.”

Nearby, in a street lined with banks, dozens of protesters hurled Molotov cocktails, setting off fires in at least two banks. Troops deployed quickly in the area to try to prevent further riots, occasionally firing rounds of tear gas to disperse the protesters.

Riots intensified later in the afternoon with protesters setting two police vehicles ablaze as the army brought more reinforcements into the area to try to bring the situation under control. Soldiers chased protesters through the streets after they threw stones at troops. Soldiers also fired tear gas and rubber bullets.

“I was driving here yesterday with my wife and found protesters destroying and smashing (the banks), then they opened tear gas and bullets on us,” said resident Talal Sradar.

Earlier in the day, hundreds marched in the funeral procession for Samman, Gunmen fired in the air in a display of anger and mourning. The man’s body was brought from his parent’s home and placed briefly in front of his motorcycle repair shop before he was laid to rest in a Tripoli cemetery.

Apparently, to avoid more tension, Samman’s body was not brought to the city’s Nour Square as previously planned. Most of the violence had taken place in the square and shortly after the funeral began troops deployed there moved away from the area.

“The army command expresses its deep regret for the fall of a martyr,” the military said, adding that an investigation has been opened into Samman’s death.

Small protests also erupted elsewhere in Lebanon, leaving scores injured and more than a dozen people detained, according to the Lebanese military.

Last week, scattered anti-government protests resumed as authorities began easing a weeks-long lockdown to limit the spread of the coronavirus pandemic in Lebanon, which has reported 710 cases and 24 deaths so far.

In a statement about the overnight riots, the Lebanese army said “troublemakers who had infiltrated the protesters to attack banks” also threw firebombs and grenades at the military, setting a military vehicle on fire. It said 54 troops were injured across the country and that the army detained 13 people.

Public anger has mounted against banks in Lebanon after they imposed capital controls on people’s deposits. Over the weekend, the Lebanese pound hit a record low, with 4,000 pounds to the dollar on the black market while the official price remained at 1,507 pounds.

On Sunday night, Lebanon’s central bank instructed currency exchange shops not to sell the dollar for more than 3,200 pounds. On Monday, most exchange shops were not selling dollars, said clients who have dollars are refusing to exchange their hard currency at such a low price.

Several exchange shop owners were detained Monday for violating the decree, prompting a strike Tuesday by shop owners until the detainees were set free. The dollar surged on the black market to 4,300 pounds on Tuesday.

 

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