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Lebanon protests continue despite coronavirus lockdown

Security forces set up check points as a state of emergency declared due to the novel coronavirus outbreak in Beirut, Lebanon on March 22, 2020 [Hussam Chbaro / Anadolu Agency]
Security forces set up check points at streets as a state of emergency has been declared due to the coronavirus outbreak in Beirut, Lebanon on 22 March 2020 [Hussam Chbaro/Anadolu Agency]

Residents in the north Lebanon city of Tripoli broke the curfew last night and took to the streets to protest about the lack of compensation from the government for businesses closed as part of the measures to combat the spread of coronavirus.

A video published by local outlet LBCI television showed people chanting while marching through the streets. Protesters are demanding financial help from the government to cover rent and utility costs after the Cabinet failed to announce cuts during the nationwide coronavirus lockdown.

Other reports suggest that many people have flouted the 7pm to 5am curfew and calls for social distancing so that they might go out to work. The worsening economic situation, they argue, leaves them with no other option.

One taxi driver set his car on fire last week in protest at a police fine for ignoring the lockdown. Social media videos showed a fruit seller in Tripoli shouting at security forces who were attempting to close his stall.

Read: Lebanese government prepares to repatriate citizens 

A crippling financial and economic crisis – Lebanon’s worst since the end of the civil war in 1990 – has left thousands unable to cover the rising cost of living and forced many to seek work despite the government-mandated shutdown. According to the World Bank, approximately 45 per cent of the population live below the poverty line, up from 33 per cent prior to September last year,.

Similar protests have erupted for a second time in as many weeks in Lebanon’s prisons. The government has failed to make rapid changes to conditions or pass legislation that would allow the temporary release of detainees in light of the pandemic. Inmates have called for furlough, or an amnesty, to prevent the rapid spread of the virus in the country’s notoriously overcrowded prisons.

Furthermore, anti-government protests which have been taking place since October last year calling for an overhaul of the sectarian political system which has led the country to the brink of economic collapse, have also failed to abate. Protesters have become more creative, and moved demonstrations online, using seminars to spread their messages, after a group of 50 or 60 activists were forcibly evicted by security forces as part of the coronavirus lockdown on 27 March.

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