BEIRUT/TRIPOLI (Reuters) – Lebanese security forces clashed for the third night with protesters in Tripoli angry about a coronavirus lockdown, with witnesses and local media reporting that riot police fired live bullets as protesters tried to storm the city’s government building.
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. Dozens were wounded.
The police did not immediately comment on whether live rounds had been fired. Reuters footage showed sparks hitting the ground, apparently from ricocheting bullets, and the sound of gunfire.
It marked the third night of violence in a row in one of Lebanon’s poorest cities, where protesters railed against a strict lockdown that they say has left them with no means to survive the country’s economic collapse.
The government imposed a 24-hour curfew earlier this month in a bid to curb a raging COVID-19 outbreak that has killed more than 2,500 people.
Aid workers warn that with little to no aid, the lockdown piles extra hardship on the poor, now more than half the population. Many rely on daily wages.
The financial meltdown, which crashed the currency, poses the greatest risk to Lebanon’s stability since its 1975-1990 civil war.
“People are tired. There’s poverty, misery, lockdown and there’s no work… Our problem is the politicians,” said Samir Agha at the Tripoli protest before clashes erupted on Wednesday night.
The Red Cross said rescuers treated at least 67 people for injuries and took 35 others to hospital. The state news agency said 226 protesters and police were wounded.
Lebanon’s Internal Security Forces wrote in a tweet that “hand grenades” were thrown and injured nine officers. They pledged to respond to rioters with “full severity and decisiveness.”
Earlier on Wednesday, caretaker Prime Minister Hassan Diab said the lockdown was necessary to contain the virus. He acknowledged that government aid was not enough to cover needs but said it would help “reduce the burdens.”
The COVID-19 response has also triggered anger in Beirut, where infections reached some of the region’s highest levels and many ICU wards are full.
The surge has overwhelmed hospitals, already struggling with dollar shortages and some damaged by an August port explosion. Diab’s cabinet resigned over the huge blast that devastated much of Beirut and killed 200 people.
(Reporting by Ellen Francis in Beirut and Walid Saleh in Tripoli; Additional reporting by Alaa Swilam in Cairo; Editing by Rosalba O’Brien)