BEIRUT (AP) — Dozens of Lebanese protesters, enraged at a nearly month-long lockdown to combat the spread of coronavirus, took to the streets of the country’s second largest city on Monday and pelted security forces with stones.
The security forces responded with tear gas to break up the protesters, who gathered in central Tripoli despite a strict lockdown in place since mid-January aimed at containing a major surge in infection in the small Mediterranean country.
Protesters in Tripoli were complaining that their region, the most impoverished in Lebanon, is unable to cope with the nearly month-long lockdown with little to no government assistance. The lockdown is in place until February 8.
Lebanon, a country of nearly 5 million and over 1 million refugees, is going through an unprecedented economic crisis that precedes the pandemic and restrictions imposed to combat it. The currency has tumbled, losing over 80% of its values; banks have imposed controls on withdrawals and transfers and unemployment and inflation skyrocketed.
Meanwhile, coronavirus infections surged in recent weeks, partially blamed on government measures to relax restrictions during the holiday seasons when tens of thousands of expat Lebanese were visiting. Hospitals have since registered near full occupancy of ICU beds and supplies were running out.
The cash-strapped government struggled to provide assistance to the crisis-struck population, half of which has been drive into poverty, mostly over the last year.
Tripoli was already reeling under the impact of economic crunch and local media has reported violations of the lockdown measures were most prevalent.
As tension built up, army troops eventually deployed to break up the scuffles between the security forces and protesters. But protesters continued to trickle into the main square in Tripoli known as al-Nour late into Monday.
The Lebanese Red Cross said it transported four people injured during the clashes.