Third night of unrest kicks off in Lebanon

Protesters voice anger over the strict lockdown and financial crisis

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Crowds gathered in Tripoli’s city centre for a third night of unrest on Wednesday, as a wave of protests against a punishing coronavirus lockdown continue to drive people out into the streets.

Even before the sun had gone down, groups of masked men had set fire to dumpsters in Al Nour square, and pelted stones at the city’s Serail - the seat of local government.

Earlier in the day, Prime Minister designate Saad Hariri condemned the violence of the two previous nights, claiming in a vague tweet that political groups may be behind the unrest.

“Behind the moves in Tripoli may be parties that want to send political messages,” he said.

Groups had clashed with the army across the city centre late into the night on Tuesday, with soldiers using tear gas and rubber bullets in response to a barrage of rocks and broken glass.

By 10pm that evening, Al Nour Square, once home to the sprawling campsites of last year’s uprising, had been cleared by the army.

A few exhausted soldiers sat on the ground amid a carpet of broken tiles and smashed concrete.

“Who do they think is going to clean this up?” sighed one of the soldiers, who was a local.

Thousands were drawn out, as the second consecutive night of clashes in the city vastly outdid the first.

During the economic crisis, Tripoli has fared especially badly compared with other parts of the country.

More than 50 per cent of the country's population were living below the poverty line even before the economic crisis of the past year.

Many out demonstrating were furious at the lack of government support throughout the pandemic.

"There is no country in the world that went into lockdown without compensating people," said Rami, 40, a shop owner.

"How are we going to live?"

Ibrahim Al Attar, a delivery driver with a young daughter, said Covid-19 restrictions were making it impossible for him to pay his rent.

“I am protesting because I have no money. How are we supposed to make a living during lockdown?” Mr Al Attar said.

At one point in the night, demonstrators tried to set fire to a police station.

They set alight a dumpster in its entrance before trying to storm the station, forcing them to put the fire out.

The city has had other protests against lockdown, but none came close to the scale or anger of Tuesday night, and many people said they would be back on Wednesday.

“We have nothing else to do,” said Majdi Akati, 19. “It’s not like there are any jobs, the schools are shut too.”

Tripoli is no stranger to popular protest. It was a centre of uprising during the wave of protests that forced the country’s government to resign in 2019 and 2020.

Yet those out on the streets said it was a different crowd venting their anger, with the witty chants and megaphones swapped for fireworks and shouts.

The leaders of the previous protests in recent years appeared to stay home, as the young crowds roamed the city with little sense of organisation.

“The big shots from the revolution only talk about protesting on social media, but where are they today? None of them came to demonstrate with us,” Mr Al Attar said.

The Lebanese Red Cross said it had taken 9 people to hospital while treating 36 on the spot.

The National  saw one unconscious man being carried by stretcher to an ambulance, and at least two men being arrested by the army.

The country is in the middle of a 25-day lockdown, as it battles record numbers of coronavirus deaths.

On Monday, 73 people – the highest daily toll yet – were reported to have died with Covid-19.