At least one dead and over 40 injured in clashes between protesters and the Lebanese Army

Protests escalate in Lebanon because of hunger and coronavirus

AFP/PATRICK BAZ - Lebanese demonstrators wave the national flag in front of riot police in the capital Beirut on 28 April 2020

The collapse of the currency, rising inflation and the deep financial crisis that Lebanon has been going through since last October have created the perfect breeding ground for the emergence of protests that have taken on new dimensions this Tuesday, after a 26-year-old boy lost his life during clashes between demonstrators and the Lebanese army in the northern city of Tripoli - not to be confused with the capital of Libya.

Fawaz Fouad Samman's sister confirmed that her brother had been killed in the demonstrations through the social network Facebook. "My brother Fawaz Faoud al-Samman, 26, died from the wounds caused by a bullet fired during the fighting against the army in Tripoli". During these protests, at least 48 other people have been injured around Tripoli's Abdel-Hamid Square, including 35 civilians and 13 soldiers, according to the Middle East Monitor. 

Un manifestante antigubernamental discute con un oficial del Ejército libanés durante los disturbios en el norte de la ciudad portuaria de Trípoli

The Lebanese Army has issued a statement about the night-time disturbances explaining that "rioters who had infiltrated the demonstrators to attack banks" had also set fire to a military vehicle and thrown grenades against Army personnel. They also reported that at least 54 soldiers had been injured throughout the country and that the army had arrested 13 people. 

The closure of the country to reduce the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic - which has so far recorded 717 cases and 24 deaths - has pushed the nation's economy to the brink. On Tuesday, protesters who took to the streets of Tripoli set fire to several banks and destroyed their storefronts. The army soon reacted by deploying its troops in several parts of the country and several soldiers in a street full of bank offices, where security forces fired rubber bullets and tear gas at the protesters. In fact, Lebanon's banking association has closed all of Tripoli's banks until security is restored, saying the institutions had been "severely targeted and disturbed," according to The Arab Weekly newspaper. 

Soldados del Ejército libanés durante los enfrentamientos con los manifestantes en la ciudad portuaria norteña de Trípoli, el 28 de abril de 2020

However, the riots began several hours earlier. Coinciding with the holy month of Ramadan - when thousands of Muslims must fast from dawn to dusk - dozens of demonstrators took to the streets and set fire to several banks and a military vehicle, as the army itself later confirmed. These clashes led to the death of the 26-year-old, according to a security force spokesman who explained that "it was not clear who was responsible for his death," the Reuters news agency reported. Protesters in the southern region of Sidon subsequently joined these protests under the banner of "revolution" and attacked the central bank building and the outside of several banking institutions in the country.  

Tension and violence have conquered every corner of the country in recent days, already threatened by an unprecedented financial crisis. The streets of Beirut have also been victims of these protests, after dozens of people marched through the city, some wearing masks to protect themselves against the coronavirus, and at the pace of a series of chants against the financial system. This apparently peaceful protest turned into a confrontation between the multitudes and the security forces located in front of the central bank several hours later. 

Los bomberos extinguen un incendio en una sucursal del Credit Libanais Bank que fue quemada por manifestantes antigubernamentales, en la ciudad norteña de Trípoli, Líbano, el 28 de abril de 2020

Prime Minister Hassan Diab has urged the Lebanese in an official statement to abstain from violence and to put aside "malicious intentions" that are "shaking up stability". "It is normal for people to return to the streets and be angry, as they were during the 17 October uprising, especially after it became clear to them that there have been political attempts to prevent the government from opening up cases of corruption," he added. Tripoli, a predominantly Sunni Muslim city, is located in one of the poorest regions of the country and is one of the places that is suffering the most from this economic instability. The violence in this region reflects the poverty that has plagued the city since last October. At that time, the demonstrators accused the politicians of corruption and mismanagement and blamed them for bringing the country to the brink of economic and financial collapse.

The Lebanese prime minister announced last March that his country was carrying a public debt of US$90 billion, or 170 percent of GDP, a situation that could push more than 40 percent of the population below the poverty line, according to EFE news agency. The Lebanese pound - dependent on foreign investment and the solvency of the dollar - has lost more than half its value since last October and has suffered a serious fall in recent days. The economic instability has led thousands of people to fear for their future and to take to the streets, despite requests from the Executive to keep people at home.  

Una foto tomada el 28 de abril de 2020 muestra las secuelas de un banco incendiado durante la noche por algunos manifestantes en Trípoli, Líbano

The Reuters news agency reported on Tuesday that the sub leader of the powerful Hezbollah movement has criticized the central bank for the fall of the pound to historical lows against the US dollar and has accused the head of this bank, Riad Salameh, of being guilty of this fact. However, society goes much further and considers that this economic crisis is the result of a series of structural problems. "What you are seeing is the result of accumulated problems. We had a revolution, people were suffering, then the coronavirus came and we had to lock ourselves in our houses for a month and a half without the state guaranteeing food and drink or anything else," 47-year-old protester Abdelaziz Sarkousi told The Associated Press Agency. "Now we have reached a state where unfortunately you can't control people anymore, because people are hungry," he added.

US Ambassador in Lebanon Dorothy C. Shea, believes, in this sense, that "the frustration of the Lebanese people with the economic crisis is understandable, and the demands of the protesters are justified," adding that "the incidents of violence, threats and destruction of property are deeply troubling and must stop". "We encourage peaceful conduct, as well as continued vigilance to enforce social distancing in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic," she insisted. UN spokesman Stéphane Dujarric also joined the call, saying that "in reaction to the fighting, the world organization urges demonstrators to exercise their right to peaceful protest and security personnel to protect peaceful protests and to act proportionately in maintaining law and order". 

Una manifestante libanesa rompe la fachada de un banco en la plaza Al-Nour

Lebanon - a country of some five million people and home to more than 1.5 million refugees - is one of the world's most indebted nations. Protests that began in October to end widespread corruption and mismanagement of resources have now turned to violent demonstrations over an economic crisis that has brought Lebanon to the brink.