In locked-down Lebanon, protester killed in night of unrest

Ellen Francis and Walid Saleh
·2-min read

By Ellen Francis and Walid Saleh

BEIRUT/TRIPOLI (Reuters) - A man was killed in the Lebanese city of Tripoli on Thursday in clashes between security forces and protesters angry over a strict lockdown that has cut off livelihoods in a collapsing economy.

Omar Taybah, 30, was hit by a bullet overnight, according to a local hospital that treated him, a security source and residents. Dozens marched at his funeral during the day.

Witnesses and local media said police had fired live bullets as protesters tried to storm the northern city's government building. Scores of people were wounded.

Security forces said they fired live rounds to disperse rioters who set the building's guard room on fire and ripped out a gate. The violence "led to the fall of a victim," the statement said without naming Taybah.

People poured back into Tripoli's main square later on Thursday.

Police fired tear gas at protesters hurling Molotov cocktails. Flames engulfed the municipality as it caught fire just before midnight, with plumes of grey smoke billowing out of the windows.

It was the fourth straight night of unrest in one of Lebanon's poorest cities, after the government imposed a 24-hour curfew to curb a COVID-19 surge that has killed more than 2,500.

OVERWHELMED HOSPITALS

Aid workers warn the lockdown is piling extra hardship on the poor, now more than half the population, with little government aid.

"People are tired. There's poverty, misery, lockdown and there's no work. ... Our problem is the politicians," said Samir Agha at the protest overnight.

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.

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.

Lebanon's Internal Security Forces said rioters threw hand grenades, including at a patrol, injuring at least nine officers. They pledged to respond with "full severity and decisiveness."

Caretaker Prime Minister Hassan Diab has said the coronavirus lockdown was necessary.

Hospitals, fighting some of the region's highest infection levels, were already struggling with supply shortages due to the liquidity crunch.

Lebanon's financial meltdown, on a scale it has never seen before, erupted in 2019 into protests against leaders who oversaw decades of state graft.

(Additional reporting by Imad Creidi and Laila Bassam; Editing by Rosalba O'Brien, William Maclean, Frances Kerry and Richard Chang)