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Violent demonstrations, protester death grip northern Lebanon

Violent protests erupted in Lebanon’s Tripoli again on Tuesday, with more banks set ablaze after a night of rioting that left one protester dead, according to security and medical sources, in demonstrations renewed by growing economic despair.

A collapse in the Lebanese pound and soaring inflation and unemployment are compounding hardship in Lebanon, which has been in deep financial crisis since October. A shutdown to curb the spread of the new coronavirus has exacerbated economic woes.

Overnight, protesters in the northern city of Tripoli set several banks and an army vehicle on fire. Soldiers fired into the air and used tear gas and rubber bullets, a security source said.

The man who died was in his 20s and it was not immediately clear who was responsible for his death, the source said.

Protesters returned on Tuesday, lighting two commercial banks on fire and smashing their facades, prompting the army to redeploy. Dozens of soldiers positioned themselves in a main commercial street lined with several banks, and some fired rubber bullets and tear gas to repel protesters.

Anti-government protesters carry their friend who was wounded by a rubber bullet during clashes with Lebanese army soldiers in Tripoli on Tuesday. (Bilal Hussein/The Associated Press)

The army said that overnight a firebomb was thrown at one of its vehicles and a hand grenade was hurled at a patrol. It blamed the trouble on “a number of infiltrators,” calling on peaceful protesters to quickly leave the streets.

A later army statement said 40 soldiers were wounded in Tripoli and elsewhere after patrols looking to reopen cut roadways were hit by stones.

Three banks and several ATMs in Tripoli were burned and nine protesters were arrested, the statement said.

‘A lot of anger’

The banking association declared all banks in Tripoli shut from Tuesday until security is restored, saying they had been targeted in “serious attacks and rioting.”

“There is a lot of anger among people because of the economic situation they are experiencing and the crazy rise in dollar price. The purchasing power of Lebanese has become non-existent,” said Samer Diblis, an activist from Tripoli.

A bank interior was damaged after it was set ablaze during unrest overnight, as an economic crisis brought demonstrations back onto the streets in Tripoli. (Omar Ibrahim/Reuters)

“We are surely heading to a much worse place…. If it is not solved with politics, this situation will surely keep on deteriorating,” said Diblis.

Tripoli, a port city 80 kilometres north of Beirut and long dogged by chronic poverty and unemployment, was the stage for big protests against Lebanon’s ruling elite during countrywide demonstrations that erupted last October.

The long-brewing crisis came to a head last year as capital inflows to Lebanon slowed and protests erupted against its political elite. The pound has since lost more than half its value, fuelling inflation in a country heavily dependent on imports.

Lebanon’s banks have been a frequent target of protesters angered by capital controls that have frozen savers out of their deposits.

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