More than 200 people were hurt in the Lebanese city of Tripoli during a third night of clashes Wednesday between security forces and demonstrators angered by a coronavirus lockdown and severe economic crisis.
Protesters threw petrol bombs and stones towards security forces, who responded with tear gas, an AFP correspondent said.
The National News Agency said 226 people had been injured in the evening — 102 of them treated by the Lebanese Red Cross and another 124 by the Islamic Medical Association.
At least 66 people had been hospitalised.
On Twitter, the security forces reported nine injured among their ranks.
“We are here to demand food. People are hungry,” said 20-year-old protester Mohammed Ezzedine. “It’s time for people to take to the streets.”
Tripoli was already one of Lebanon’s poorest areas before the coronavirus pandemic piled new misery onto a chronic economic crisis.
Many of its residents have been left without an income since Lebanon imposed a full lockdown earlier this month in a bid to stem a surge in Covid-19 cases and prevent its hospitals from being overwhelmed.
A round-the-clock curfew is in force nationwide and grocery shopping is restricted to home deliveries, which are often unavailable in poorer areas.
Authorities have extended the lockdown by two weeks to February 8.
Protesters tried to enter a government building, while others gathered in the city’s central Al-Nour Square, the scene of mass demonstrations against the political class that began in late 2019.
Gunfire was heard near the protest site, the AFP correspondent said, while demonstrators set fire to the entrance of a police building.
“We have made the decision to continue our action, whatever the cost… because we have nothing left to lose,” said a 25-year-old protester wearing a balaclava.
“We live in wretched conditions. I’ve knocked on every door but can’t find work,” he said.
After several hours of clashes, security forces deployed reinforcements to disperse the demonstrators and prevent them from storming the governorate’s headquarters.
But protesters remained in the neighbouring alleyways, where the clashes continued late into the night.
Demonstrators in other parts of the country also blocked major roads on Tuesday and Wednesday night.
In the capital Beirut, protesters burned tyres near the parliament, while others blocked the road to the sports stadium with dumpsters and more flaming tyres, the National News Agency said.
Night-time clashes in Tripoli between security forces and demonstrators had already injured at least 45 people on Tuesday and 30 on Monday, the Lebanese Red Cross said.
The army said 31 soldiers were hurt in Tuesday night’s exchange. It was not immediately clear how many soldiers were included in the Red Cross toll.
Lebanon has recorded over 289,000 Covid-19 cases and more than 2,500 deaths since the coronavirus pandemic began.
The surge in infections comes on top of the country’s worst economic crisis since its 15-year civil war ended in 1990.
Half of Lebanon’s population is now poor, and almost a quarter live in extreme poverty, the United Nations says.
Around half of the workforce lives off daily wages, the labour ministry estimates.
Authorities say they have started disbursing monthly payments of 400,000 Lebanese pounds (around $50 at the market rate) to some 230,000 families.
But caretaker social affairs minister Ramzi Musharrafieh acknowledged Tuesday that three-quarters of the population of more than six million needs financial assistance.
Coming after months of political crisis and mass anti-government demonstrations, the country’s Covid-19 response is being overseen by a caretaker administration.
The previous government had resigned after a massive explosion of ammonium nitrate fertiliser at Beirut’s port last summer killed 200 people, injured thousands and ravaged large parts of the capital.