Protests against growing economic hardship erupted in Tripoli and spread to other Lebanese cities on Tuesday, with banks set on fire and violence spilling over into a second night.
A protester was killed Monday night in riots, according to security and medical sources, following a collapse of the currency, a surge in inflation and a spiral of unemployment convulsing in Lebanon, a country in deep financial crisis since October.
A stop to fight the new coronavirus has worsened the economic situation.
Protesters in Tripoli, in the north of the country, burned banks and smashed their façades on Tuesday, prompting the military to fire rubber bullets and tear gas. On Tuesday evening, demonstrators crowded into a main square while in the side streets, some threw stones at the security forces.
Riots a night earlier left a trail of charred bank facades and broken cars and ATMs. The violence resulted in the death of a man in his 20s, a security source said that it was not immediately clear who was responsible for his death.
Banks have been the target of angry people for being frozen from their deposits.
Protesters in the southern city of Sidon, chanting the “revolution”, launched petrol bombs against a central bank building and set fire to the outside before crushing the banks’ facades.
In Beirut, dozens of people marched through the city, some wearing medical masks while chanting against the financial system and shouting for more Lebanese to join them. Crowds later threw stones at the security forces outside the central bank.
Growing unrest threatens to plunge Lebanon into a more serious conflict even as Beirut seeks to adopt an economic bailout and start negotiations with foreign creditors after defaulting on its heavy debts last month.
Prime Minister Hassan Diab urged the Lebanese to refrain from any violence and said that “malicious intentions behind the scenes” made “stability tremble”.
“We are facing a new reality, a reality that the social and life crisis has worsened at record speed, especially with the rise of the US dollar exchange rate to record levels on the black market,” said Diab. in a press release.
The Lebanese pound has lost more than half of its value since October and has fallen sharply in the past week, sparking little protests despite the blocking of coronaviruses and calls from authorities to keep people at home.
The US dollar sold Tuesday at 4,200 Lebanese pounds, according to an importer, despite a central bank directive capping the price at 3,200. Several currency brokers were arrested on Monday for violating the ceiling, prompting their association professional to announce an unlimited strike.
In a phone call to Diab, French Minister of Foreign Affairs Jean-Yves Le Drian said that Paris was ready to call a meeting of the international support group for Lebanon as soon as the measures to combat coronaviruses been lifted.
Diab’s government, formed in January with the backing of the mighty Iranian-backed Hezbollah, has struggled to implement the reforms demanded by foreign donors to unlock billions of dollars in pledges.
“People have lost their purchasing power and the state has no plan to do anything. Banks are closed and don’t give people money. I think this government should step down,” said said Tripoli’s lawyer Fahed Moukaddem.
Information Minister Manal Abdel Samad said after a cabinet meeting that “the final touches” have been brought to the rescue plan, the draft of which estimated this month the losses of the banking sector to $ 83 billion.
Tripoli, a predominantly Sunni Muslim port city located 80 km (50 miles) north of Beirut and long plagued by poverty and unemployment, was the scene of protests against the Lebanese ruling elite last October.
“It is not a riot, it expresses (anger) that the dollar has reached 4,000 Lebanese pounds. … How are people going to eat? And this is the holy month of Ramadan,” said Abu Hussein. , activist from Tripoli.
The military said an incendiary bomb was launched on one of its vehicles and a hand grenade was launched on a patrol. He accused the “infiltrators” and called for peaceful protesters to leave the streets.
He said 40 soldiers were injured in Tripoli and elsewhere in the first night of riots after patrols sent to reopen the roads were attacked with stones and nine demonstrators were arrested.
A statement from the US Embassy in Beirut said: “The Lebanese people’s frustration with the economic crisis is understandable and the demands of the protesters are justified. But incidents of violence, threats and destruction of property are deeply worrying and must stop. “
The United Nations Special Coordinator for Lebanon, Jan Kubis, said the violence was a warning to Lebanese political leaders.
“Now is the time to provide material support to an increasingly desperate, impoverished and hungry majority of Lebanese people across the country,” he wrote in a tweet.
The banking association has declared all Tripoli banks closed until security is restored. Only a handful of branches were opened during the coronavirus lockdown.