Troops use tear gas as violent clashes rock Beirut

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Protesters, protect riot police from stones thrown by anti-government protesters during a protest in downtown Beirut, Lebanon, Saturday, June 6, 2020. (AP)
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Anti-government protesters hold Lebanese national flags as shout slogans during a protest in downtown Beirut, Lebanon, Saturday, June 6, 2020. (AP)
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Anti-government protesters shout slogans during a protest in downtown Beirut, Lebanon, Saturday, June 6, 2020. (AP)
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Hezbollah and Amal supporters stand in front of Lebanese army as they shout slogans against anti-government protesters, in downtown Beirut, Lebanon, Saturday, June 6, 2020. (AP)
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Updated 06 June 2020

Troops use tear gas as violent clashes rock Beirut

  • Divisions among protesters over the goals of the demonstration quickly became apparent as groups of protesters faced off
  • 35 hurt after chanting protesters call for Hezbollah to disarm

BEIRUT: Violent clashes between supporters of Iran-backed Hezbollah and rival protesters left more than 35 people injured as anti-government demonstrations returned to Lebanon’s capital on Saturday.

Hundreds of protesters filled the streets around Martyrs Square, blaming a lack of reforms for the country’s worst economic turmoil in decades amid rising unemployment worsened by a lockdown to stop the spread of coronavirus.

But the protest turned violent as supporters of Hezbollah clashed with demonstrators demanding that the Tehran-backed Shiite group disarm.

Protesters threw stones and chanted sectarian insults as troops formed a human chain to keep the rival groups apart.

“No to Hezbollah, no to its weapons,” said a sign held up by a female protester.

Panic erupted after troops used gunfire to halt the confrontation.

The Lebanese Red Cross said that 35 people were hurt in clashes, with many treated at the scene.

Protesters came from around Lebanon to join renewed demonstrations in the capital, with many waving flags and others carrying banners demanding Hezbollah disarm.

One protester told Arab News: “We are rebels and free to raise demands of our choice, whether it is related to the economy or to disarming Hezbollah.”

Another said: “I am from Akkar. The government has done nothing. Hundreds of people have lost their jobs, and I know families that have nothing to eat.”

A third said that Arab and foreign countries had broken ties with Lebanon because of Hezbollah.

“No one wants to help us out of our financial crisis. That is why we want Hezbollah to disarm,” he said.

Interior Minister Mohamed Fahmy and Defense Minister Zeina Akar followed security operations in Martyrs Square from an operation room in Emile Helou police station.

Fahmy warned protesters against attacking public or private property, saying that security forces ” will intervene the moment riots occur.”

However MP Samy Gemayel, head of the Phalanges party, accused authorities of “trying to cause discord among protesters, labeling them traitors, and spreading rumors to intimidate them.”

The Phalanges Party was among parties calling for early parliamentary elections during the protests.

“The mood of the people has changed, and the goal of the political authority is to cause divisions in order to postpone the next elections,” Gemayel said.

Former justice minister Maj. Gen. Ashraf Rifi, whose supporters traveled from Tripoli to join the protests, accused Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah of being “an Iranian agent.”

He said: “The revolution rejuvenates itself for a new start, and differences among protesters is a healthy phenomenon. No one dares to intimidate us by threatening to put one segment of society against the other.”

Rifi said that Hezbollah’s illegal arms supply was a threat to “Lebanese sovereignty and national unity.”

“We are partners in one country and we should establish a sovereign state, not a state within the state. You have a regional power that supplies weapons to you, but another regional power could supply weapons to another party, which would lead to the destruction of the country,” he said.

Iraqi MP dies of COVID-19 as cases jump 600%

Updated 6 min 23 sec ago

Iraqi MP dies of COVID-19 as cases jump 600%

  • Ghida Kambash, 46, was a three-time MP from Baquba
  • Iraq’s health ministry has declared around 70,000 coronavirus cases, of whom nearly 3,000 have died and 40,000 recovered

BAGHDAD: Iraqi lawmaker Ghida Kambash died Friday after contracting the novel coronavirus, parliament announced, its first member to succumb to the virus as its spread ramps up across the country.
The 46-year-old was a three-time MP from Baquba, northeast of Baghdad, and helped pass laws on education reform and social welfare.
She leaves behind four children.
Last month, parliament speaker Mohammed Al-Halbussi said up to 20 deputies were confirmed to have been infected with COVID-19.
In total, Iraq’s health ministry has declared around 70,000 coronavirus cases, of whom nearly 3,000 have died and 40,000 recovered.
After seeing a relatively slow spread in the first five months of 2020, cases spiked 600 percent in June alone, according to the International Rescue Committee.
“The rate at which COVID-19 is spreading through Iraq is extremely alarming,” said Christine Petrie, IRC’s country director.
The country’s health system — already worn down by years of war and poor investments — has been overwhelmed by the rising numbers.
Protective equipment, respirators and even hospital beds are all running low, forcing authorities to turn expo centers, stadiums and hotels into coronavirus wards and confinement centers.
Particularly stark is the “severe shortage of oxygen,” according to the World Health Organization, which recently airlifted 300 oxygen concentrators to help Iraqi hospitals cope.
Aid has also been donated from foreign countries, most recently Turkey, the United Arab Emirates and the US.
Still, footage shot in hospitals in Iraq’s south shows patients struggling to breathe without access to respirators as their family members berate health staff.
Health Minister Dr. Hassan Salman was in the southern province of Diwaniyah on Friday to inspect hospital conditions there.
Iraq relaxed its curfew measures in recent weeks after imposing a strict country-wide lockdown in late March.
The restrictions hit its fledgling private sector hard, with an IRC survey finding that 87 percent of Iraqis were out of work as a result of the lockdown and 61 percent were already going into debt.
“Once things stabilize there will be a lot of work to do to help people get back on their feet,” said Petrie.
“Their loss of livelihoods will have taken a heavy toll on people’s mental health, which was already in a fragile state after decades of conflict and instability.”