Lebanon on brink of chaos
BEIRUT: A Lebanese protester shot by police died on Tuesday amid violent clashes as people ignored curfews and took to the streets again in anger at the currency collapse and a surge in food prices.
Dozens of protesters attacked banks and set an army vehicle ablaze as street demonstrations in Tripoli turned into riots.
Six Lebanese army officers were hurt when troops confronted protesters with tear gas and rubber bullets, injuring more than 40 people.
Fawaz Al-Samman, 26, was rushed to hospital after being hit by a rubber bullet during clashes, but died from his injuries.
Hundreds of people gathered at the victim’s funeral, ignoring the ban on large gatherings to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus.
Al-Samman’s grieving father described his son as “one of those people who were hungry.”
Lebanon’s army command later expressed “deep regret for the martyr’s fall during protests on Monday” and said that it had launched an investigation into the incident.
The army accused “infiltrators” of inciting the violence, and said that nine people had been arrested for setting fire to banks and an army vehicle, and throwing a hand grenade at security forces.
Anti-government protests grew last week as the government began easing the lockdown aimed at curbing the spread of the coronavirus.
After protests spread to Beirut on Tuesday, hundreds of activists paraded in Martyrs’ Square, chanting “Revolution, revolution,” blocking roads and hurling stones at army vehicles.
Protesters set fire to Bank Audi in Ras Al-Nabaa, destroying the facade.
The UN’s special coordinator in Lebanon, Jan Kubitsch, said that the “tragic events in Tripoli” were a warning signal to the country’s political leaders.
“This is not the right time for settling scores or attacking banks,” he said. “Rather, it is the moment when concrete support must be provided to the growing majority of the desperate, poor and hungry Lebanese across the country.”
Prime Minister Hassan Diab told a Cabinet session it was “natural for people to take to the streets and express their anger again, especially after it was found that there were political attempts to prevent the government from opening an investigation into corruption.”
However, he said that the attacks revealed a “malicious intent to shake security stability.”
“That’s playing with fire. Tampering with stability is forbidden.”
Suleiman Frangieh, leader of the Marada Movement, said: “We are heading into an ugly and harsh stage that requires patience, strength and faith.”
Hezbollah backtracked on Tuesday from holding central bank governor Riad Salameh alone responsible for the monetary policy that has brought the country to the brink of collapse. “Salameh is responsible, but he is not alone. The current crisis is the result of the accumulation of many years of the policies of previous governments,” said Sheikh Naim Kassem, Hezbollah’s deputy leader.
Meanwhile, the national airline MEA resumed flights returning Lebanese from abroad. Six flights arrived on Tuesday from Cyprus, Dammam, Paris, Lagos and the Congo Republic.