Protesting Lebanese wonder if they will die from COVID19 or hunger

Protesters in Tripoli defied the coronavirus lockdown to mark six months since the start of an anti-government street movement. (AFP Archive)

Several hundred people protested in Lebanon on Friday despite the country’s coronavirus lockdown, marking six months since mass rallies broke out over government corruption and economic hardship.

Protesters burn tires during a protest in Lebanon’s northern city Tripoli, on April 17, 2020. More than 500 people took to the streets in the northern Lebanese city of Tripoli on Friday evening to protest against dire living conditions, despite the general mobilization adopted by the government to curb the spread of the COVID-19, MTV Lebanon reported. (Photo by Khalid/Xinhua)

Protestors in the northern city of Tripoli threw rocks at security forces, who responded with teargas to disperse a group attempting to approach a parliamentarian’s house, an AFP reporter said.

Burning tyres in the central Al-Nour square, a focal point of months of rallies that began on 17 October, they refused to leave when a 7:00 pm (1600 GMT) curfew came into effect.

The protestors, few of whom wore protective masks against the virus, also shouted slogans against the government and the chief of the central bank.

Protesters in Tripoli defied the coronavirus lockdown to mark six months since the start of an anti-government street movement. (AFP Archive)

The initial rallies last year were sparked by a raft of new taxes, and quickly morphed into a street movement calling for a full overhaul of the political class.

It led to prime minister Saad Hariri’s resignation.

As the political crisis deepened, a liquidity crunch prompted informal capital controls, further stoking protesters’ anger.

Karim, protesting on Friday, said he was angered by rising prices.

“Are we going to die of hunger or die of coronavirus?” he asked.

Even before the coronavirus pandemic forced a stringent lockdown, Lebanon was suffering its worst economic crisis since its 1975-1990 civil war, with a grinding recession and spiralling inflation.

FILE PHOTO: protest against corruption in Lebanon

One of the world’s most indebted countries, in March it defaulted on sovereign bonds for the first time in its history.

With the International Monetary Fund now predicting national output will contract by 12 percent this year, authorities are working on a recovery plan.

The coronavirus pandemic is yet another critical blow for Lebanon, which has officially registered 668 cases of the illness including 21 deaths.

To help those most in need during the country’s lockdown, the government is giving modest cash handouts.

But for many protesters, who see the banks and the government as to blame for their predicament, it is too little, far too late.

In Tripoli, Fatima, 27, said she was demonstrating in spite of the lockdown to demand the “rights of the people”.

“They can try to scare us as much as they want, tell us ‘stay at home, you’ll be contaminated’,” she said. 

“But the Lebanese people won’t let it pass any more.”