Several protesters in Lebanon’s second-largest city have been injured after security forces fired live ammunition during riots on Wednesday, the third consecutive day of protests against economic hardship during a nationwide coronavirus lockdown.
Live images broadcast on television showed armed officers wearing the uniform of Lebanon’s Internal Security Forces (ISF) fire shots at a large group of rioters who advanced on them throwing rocks in central Tripoli.
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The ISF had said about the same time that nine members were injured, one critically, when a “military hand grenade” was thrown at them near the city’s Serail, an official building. Al Jazeera could not independently confirm the claim.
The ISF threatened to act “with severity and firmness”, within the law, against rioters they said were attempting to storm the building.
The Lebanese Red Cross said it had provided medical attention to 82 people during the protests, transporting 15 people to hospital.
Hundreds had taken to the streets on Wednesday afternoon to denounce the absence of any economic aid despite a nationwide coronavirus lockdown, which forces almost all businesses to close and almost everyone to remain home.
Protesters started to converge on Tripoli’s main square – people say they can’t cope w/ coronavirus lockdown without economic support from the Govt #Lebanon – there have been two nights of violence pic.twitter.com/vJSlyPzCPb
— Zeina Khodr (@ZeinakhodrAljaz) January 27, 2021
Security forces including the Lebanese Army had earlier used tear gas and water cannons in an attempt to disperse a crowd that was apparently attempting to break into the Serail, near the city’s central Al Nour square.
The square became a hub of protest action during Lebanon’s October 2019 uprising against the country’s entrenched political class, whose corruption and mismanagement has led Lebanon into a devastating financial crisis.
The latest protests come nearly three weeks into a nationwide COVID-19 lockdown that aims to prevent the country’s healthcare sector from collapsing amid a significant surge in the number of new cases and the number of COVID-related deaths. The small Mediterranean nation of about six million has so far recorded more than 285,000 cases and 2,477 deaths, with a record 73 deaths on Tuesday.
But the heavy lockdown was rolled out without economic support, in a country where more than half the population is poor.
“People are angry and are saying they can no longer survive … or make ends meet,” said Al Jazeera’s Zeina Khodr, reporting from Tripoli, adding that protesters in Lebanon’s “most impoverished city” denounced the lockdown as “an added burden to their struggle”.
“Many work in the informal sector, which means they do not get any government assistance,” Khodr said.
At least 74 people were injured in Wednesday’s protests, with 11 requiring hospitalisation, according to figures from the Lebanese Red Cross.
Two separate videos from Wednesday’s protests appear to show petrol bombs being thrown by rioters at the Serail, as some in the crowd cheer. Petrol bombs were also thrown towards security forces on previous nights.
Security forces, meanwhile, used large amounts of tear gas and rubber bullets against the crowd.
Smaller groups of protesters held their own demonstrations across the country on Tuesday and Wednesday, including in the capital, Beirut, the eastern Bekaa Valley and southern Jiyeh and Tyre.
The current lockdown is scheduled to remain in place until February 8.
Officials plan to begin a vaccination drive by mid-February, with caretaker Health Minister Hamad Hasan saying on Wednesday they aimed to vaccinate 80 percent of the population by the end of the year.
With reporting by Timour Azhari in Beirut, Lebanon