Lebanese army clears protest roadblocks as hospitals warn of medical emergency

President Michel Aoun asked the army and security forces to clear the obstructions

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The Lebanese army spent Wednesday clearing roadblocks of burning debris, dumpsters and vehicles, eight days after protesters obstructed roads across the country, angered by the country's economic meltdown and political deadlock.

The delay clearing the roads was partly due to a political row between the chief of the armed forces and President Aoun.

Traffic had returned to normal, but the army deployment remained on the main motorway linking the north and south of the country.

"As a result of the tragic accidents and violations that took place, units of the army started this morning opening closed roads," the Lebanese army said on Twitter.

Tens of protesters had repeatedly blocked and reopened key roads across the country on Tuesday, causing traffic congestion on key motorways leading to and from Beirut.

The traffic jams prompted hospitals to sound the alarm over potential shortages in medical supplies necessary to treat Covid-19 patients as suppliers faced difficulties in delivering oxygen.

Three men were killed in a car accident late on Monday when they drove into a lorry blocking a main motorway in north Lebanon.

By early Wednesday morning, the army had cleared the few remaining roadblocks set up the day before without resistance from protesters. These included the Jiyyeh motorway south of Beirut and Beddawi motorway in north Lebanon.

President Michel Aoun had asked the army and security forces to clear the obstructions on Monday after a meeting with caretaker prime minister Hassan Diab, key members of his Cabinet and top security officials.

But the army, whose commander had warned earlier in the day of the effect the economic crisis was having on the army’s morale, did not immediately intervene to force protesters to clear the roads.

Army chief blames government inaction

"Where are we headed, what are your plans?" the army chief said earlier in the day, addressing Lebanese officials, in unusual public comments over the country's economic woes by a high-ranking security official.

Tuesday was the eighth consecutive day of protests over the country's economic meltdown and political deadlock.

The financial crisis in Lebanon, which erupted in 2019, wiped out jobs, locked people out of their bank deposits and raised the risk of widespread hunger.

Groups of protesters burnt tires daily to block roads since the Lebanese currency tumbled to a new low last week, deepening popular anger over the country's financial collapse.

After the fatal road accident on Monday, Maronite Patriarch Bechara Boutros Al Rai, the country's top Christian cleric, urged caution against chaotic road blocks.

In a sermon he assured demonstrators that he stood by them and felt their pain but that people on the road are not the cause of the country's problems and should not be the ones who are punished.