Riots in crisis-hit Lebanon reflect growing poverty, despair

Lebanese army soldiers run in front of a Credit Libanais Bank that was set on fire by anti-government protesters, in the northern city of Tripoli, Lebanon, Tuesday, April 28, 2020. Hundreds of angry Lebanese took part Tuesday in the funeral of a young man killed in riots overnight in the northern city of Tripoli that were triggered by the crash of Lebanon’s national currency that sent food prices soaring. (AP Photo/Bilal Hussein)

TRIPOLI, Lebanon (AP) — Hundreds of protesters in Lebanon’s northern city of Tripoli set fire Tuesday to two banks and hurled stones at soldiers who responded with tear gas and batons in renewed clashes triggered by an economic crisis spiraling out of control amid a weeks-long virus lockdown.

The clashes got underway in the afternoon hours after a tense funeral was held for a 27-year-old man killed during riots overnight in the country’s second largest city. Fawwaz Samman was shot by soldiers during confrontations that began Monday night and died in a hospital hours later.

Tripoli, a predominantly Sunni Muslim city, is in one of the most neglected and poorest regions in Lebanon, and there were concerns the confrontations would escalate to wider chaos.

The violence is a reflection of the rising poverty and despair gripping the country amid a crippling financial crisis that has worsened since October, when nationwide protests against a corrupt political class broke out. A lockdown to stem the spread of the new coronavirus has further aggravated the crisis, throwing tens of thousands more people out of work.

The national currency has lost more than 50% of its value, and banks have imposed crippling capital controls amid a liquidity crunch. But it appeared to be in a free fall over the last few days, selling as low as 4,000 pounds to the dollar, down from a fixed peg of 1,500 pounds to the dollar in place for 30 years.

“What you’re seeing is a result of accumulated problems. We had a revolution, people were suffering, then came corona and people were locked in their homes for a month and a half without the state securing food and drink or anything else for them,” said protester Abdelaziz Sarkousi, 47. “Now we have reached a state where unfortunately you cannot control people anymore. People are hungry!”

Nearby, in a street lined with banks, dozens of protesters hurled Molotov cocktails, setting off blazing fires in at least two banks. Troops deployed quickly in the area to try to prevent further riots, occasionally firing rounds of tear gas to disperse the protesters.

Riots intensified in the afternoon with protesters setting two police vehicles ablaze as the army brought more reinforcements into the area to try to bring the situation under control. Soldiers chased protesters through the streets after they threw stones at troops. Soldiers also fired tear gas and rubber bullets.

“I was driving here yesterday with my wife and found protesters destroying and smashing (the banks), then they opened tear gas and bullets on us,” said resident Talal Sradar.

Earlier in the day, hundreds marched in the funeral procession for Samman, Gunmen fired in the air in a display of anger and mourning. The man’s body was brought from his parent’s home and placed briefly in front of his motorcycle repair shop before he was laid to rest in a Tripoli cemetery.

“The army command expresses its deep regret for the fall of a martyr,” the military said, adding that an investigation has been opened into Samman’s death.

Smaller protests also erupted elsewhere in Lebanon, including in Beirut’s city center, where hundreds of demonstrators gathered Tuesday evening.

Last week, scattered anti-government protests resumed as authorities began easing a weeks-long lockdown to limit the spread of the coronavirus pandemic in Lebanon, which has reported 710 cases and 24 deaths so far.

In a statement about the overnight riots, the Lebanese army said “troublemakers who had infiltrated the protesters to attack banks” also threw firebombs and grenades at the military, setting a military vehicle on fire. It said 54 troops were injured across the country and that the army detained 13 people.

Public anger has mounted against banks in Lebanon after they imposed capital controls on people’s deposits.

The tiny Mediterranean country of about 5 million people is one the most indebted in the world. Nationwide protests broke out in October against the government because of widespread corruption and mismanagement of resources.

Prime Minister Hassan Diab’s government came to office in January after his predecessor, Saad Hariri, stepped down. He was quickly engulfed in a nationwide health crisis over the novel cornavirus, a crisis that deepened the country’s economic recession.

___

Associated Press writers Zeina Karam and Bassem Mroue in Beirut contributed reporting.

Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Recent Videos

Bottineau Memorial Day Flags

Thumbnail for the video titled "Bottineau Memorial Day Flags"

N.D. Veterans Cemetery Memorial Day

Thumbnail for the video titled "N.D. Veterans Cemetery Memorial Day"

Memorial Day Family Tradition

Thumbnail for the video titled "Memorial Day Family Tradition"

KX Storm Team Full Evening Forecast w/Tom Schrader

Thumbnail for the video titled "KX Storm Team Full Evening Forecast w/Tom Schrader"

Fishing Memorial Day

Thumbnail for the video titled "Fishing Memorial Day"

KX Storm Team #OneMinuteForecast on Memorial Day 2020

Thumbnail for the video titled "KX Storm Team #OneMinuteForecast on Memorial Day 2020"

Robert Suhr KX News 6:20am Forecast 5-25-20

Thumbnail for the video titled "Robert Suhr KX News 6:20am Forecast 5-25-20"

Robert One Minute 5-25

Thumbnail for the video titled "Robert One Minute 5-25"

Tips and Tricks: Make your own bubble bath!

Thumbnail for the video titled "Tips and Tricks: Make your own bubble bath!"

Bismarck Graduates

Thumbnail for the video titled "Bismarck Graduates"

Parents react to graduation

Thumbnail for the video titled "Parents react to graduation"

Robert One Minute 5-24

Thumbnail for the video titled "Robert One Minute 5-24"

State Lab Equipment Malfunction

Thumbnail for the video titled "State Lab Equipment Malfunction"

Bottineau Track

Thumbnail for the video titled "Bottineau Track"

Watford City Summer School

Thumbnail for the video titled "Watford City Summer School"

Minot Gated Community

Thumbnail for the video titled "Minot Gated Community"

Barricaded Subject in Bismarck

Thumbnail for the video titled "Barricaded Subject in Bismarck"

COVID-19 Case Report Update 5-24

Thumbnail for the video titled "COVID-19 Case Report Update 5-24"

Spring golf championship

Thumbnail for the video titled "Spring golf championship"
More Video

KX News Trending Stories

Don't Miss

Daily Pledge

More Daily Pledge