Dozens wounded in clashes as hundreds of protesters flood Beirut

Lebanese army block supporters of the Lebanese Shiite movements Hezbollah and Amal as they shout slogans against protesters in central Beirut. (AFP/Anwar Amro)
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Updated 07 June 2020

Dozens wounded in clashes as hundreds of protesters flood Beirut

  • Hundreds filled the streets in and around the protest hub of Martyrs Square in the center of Beirut
  • Soldiers moved in to restore order, said the state-run news agency ANI

BEIRUT: Protesters poured into the streets of the Lebanese capital Saturday to decry the collapse of the economy, as clashes erupted between supporters and opponents of the Iran-backed Shiite group Hezbollah.
Hundreds filled the streets in and around the protest hub of Martyrs Square in the center of Beirut, with skirmishes also between protesters and security forces, who fired tear gas.
Forty-eight were wounded in the violence, 11 of whom were hospitalized, while the rest were treated at the scene, the Lebanese Red Cross said.
It was the first major anti-government rally attracting demonstrators from across the country since authorities relaxed a lockdown imposed in mid-March to fight the spread of the coronavirus.
“We came on the streets to demand our rights, call for medical care, education, jobs and the basic rights that human beings need to stay alive,” said 21-year-old student Christina.
Many protesters wore face-masks as part of hygiene measures imposed to fight the pandemic, which has severely exacerbated an economic crisis, the worst since the debt-burdened country’s 1975-1990 civil war.
But Saturday’s protest turned violent as supporters of Hezbollah clashed with some demonstrators calling on the group to disarm.
Hezbollah is the only group to have kept its weapons since the end of the Lebanese civil war, deeply dividing Lebanon along political lines.

“Weapons should be only in the hands of the army,” said Sana, a 57-year-old female protester from Nabatiyeh, a city in southern Lebanon, a Hezbollah stronghold.
Soldiers formed a human chain separating the two sides after supporters and opponents of Hezbollah threw stones at each other, an AFP photographer said.
Supporters of Hezbollah, which is also represented in the government and parliament, chanted: “Shiite, Shiite.”
On Saturday evening, there was an exchange of gunfire between residents of a Sunni district, a stronghold of the former prime minister Saad Hariri, and a nearby Shiite neighborhood, a stronghold of the Amal party, a security source said.
Soldiers moved in to restore order, said the state-run news agency ANI.
There were clashes too in the northern city of Tripoli, an AFP correspondent there reported.
Security forces fired tear gas near a street leading into the parliament building behind Martyrs Square, after some demonstrators pelted them with stones and ransacked shops.
Some protesters set fire to garbage bins as riot police advanced toward them.
Lebanon has been rocked by a series of political crises in recent years, before an economic crunch helped trigger unprecedented cross-sectarian mass protests in October.
The demonstrations forced the government to resign and a new one headed by Prime Minister Hassan Diab was approved by parliament in February, tasked with launching reforms and combatting corruption.
But many Lebanese say the new administration has failed to find solutions to the country’s manifold problems, including a grinding recession and spiralling inflation.
The local currency has lost more than half of its value on the black market in recent months, falling from the official rate of 1,507 to more than 4,000 pounds to the dollar. Banks have gradually stopped all dollar withdrawals.
A sign held aloft by protesters on Saturday called for “a government that eliminates corruption, not one that protects corruption.”
More than 35 percent of Lebanese are unemployed, while poverty has soared to engulf more than 45 percent of the population, according to official estimates.
Lebanon is also one of the world’s most indebted countries, with a debt equivalent to more than 170 percent of its GDP. The country defaulted on its external borrowing for the first time in March.
Diab’s government adopted an economic recovery plan in April and has begun negotiations with the International Monetary Fund, to try to unlock billions of dollars in aid.


New Tunisia protests over unemployment

Updated 16 min 20 sec ago

New Tunisia protests over unemployment

  • “Either we get a better life or we all die,” demonstrators, including women, could be heard shouting, according to the reports
  • Nearly a decade after the revolution that toppled Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, the government has yet to resolve regional inequalities

TUNIS: Hundreds of Tunisians demonstrated in the south of the country on Saturday against unemployment and the death of a young man they say was killed by soldiers earlier this week.
Protesters in the town of Remada demanded that President Kais Saied visit their region to discuss their living conditions, witnesses told AFP and videos published online showed.
“Either we get a better life or we all die,” demonstrators, including women, could be heard shouting, according to the reports.
“We want to see President Kais Saied. We voted for him and he must come here to Remada to hear us out and see how our children are being killed,” a woman seen in one video said.
On Tuesday night, a young man suspected of being a smuggler was killed during a police operation in the town, which is close to the border with conflict-riddled Libya.
The defense ministry has opened an investigation to determine if he died when soldiers opened fire on four vehicles transporting smuggled goods from Libya.
Southern Tunisia is one of the country’s most marginalized regions, with above-average unemployment, failing infrastructure and a stunted private sector.
Nearly a decade after the revolution that toppled Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, the government has yet to resolve regional inequalities.
In recent weeks, protests have also rocked the southern town of Tataouine, some 80 kilometers (50 miles) from Remada, with demonstrators demanding the government honor a 2017 pledge to invest millions to develop the region and provide jobs to thousands.
Protesters in Tataouine have blocked roads and sought to prevent trucks from accessing the remote El-Kamour pumping station in the desert outside the town.
“The situation in the south of Tunisia is unacceptable,” Saied said in a video published Thursday on the presidency’s official Facebook page.
Saied, who had focused on Tunisia’s disenfranchised youth during his 2019 election campaign, said protests were “legitimate” as long as they respected the law.