“Night of the Molotov”: Massive, Violent Protests Sweep Lebanon

  • A 26-year old man was killed during one of the protest rallies in Tripoli Monday, sparking further violent protests.
  • Police in riot gear stormed a rally on Friday, removing hundreds of protesters by truck.
  • Lebanon owes a total of $30 billion in securities, invested in the Eurozone by European companies and governments.

There is no sign of calm in Lebanon. Despite traffic bans in the country since March over the spread of coronavirus, Lebanese people have taken to the streets to protest corruption and the economic crisis. AFP has published a report from Beirut announcing the second day of widespread protests in Tripoli.

Hassan Diab is a Lebanese engineer and academic who since 21 January 2020 has been serving as the Prime Minister of Lebanon after the formation of a cabinet, having been appointed to the position by President Michel Aoun. Prior to his prime ministership, Diab served as the Lebanese Minister of Education from 2011 to 2014, under President Michel Suleiman.

On Tuesday, Lebanon once again witnessed popular protests against the country’s widespread economic crisis. A 26-year old man was killed during one of the protest rallies in Tripoli Monday, sparking further violent protests. Lebanese police have expressed regret over the killing of the young man, saying the case would be pursued seriously.

Meanwhile, the young woman’s sister, who was shot dead by police during Monday’s protests in Tripoli and died of her injuries, told AFP that her brother had not been involved in throwing stones at officials.

Dozens Injured

During the protests in Lebanon over the past two days, people hurled stones at police and opened fire on them. Police in riot gear stormed a rally on Friday, removing hundreds of protesters by truck. Rescue workers say at least 26 protesters have been injured and one killed in a violent clash with police.

The Lebanese government has banned rallies in Lebanon since March 15 to fight the spread of coronavirus. People were still seen in the city of Tripoli, despite the ban on traffic. People in Tripoli chanted “Revolution, revolution!” They have protested against the country’s poor economic situation and pervasive corruption.

Lebanon is currently facing a severe economic crisis. The German news agency reports that the severity of the economic crisis has been unprecedented since the country’s civil war. The International Monetary Fund has also predicted that Lebanon’s economic growth rate will fall by about 12 percent this year.

The prevalence of COVID-19 disease is one of the factors that has contributed to the intensification of the economic crisis in this country.

Lebanon in the Midst of Bankruptcy

Lebanese Prime Minister Hassan Diab last month announced that the government was unable to pay $1.2 billion in securities repayments. Lebanon owes a total of $30 billion in securities, invested in the Eurozone by European companies and governments. The second installment must be paid by June this year.

The $30 billion is only a third of the Lebanese government’s debt, which according to the latest reports has reached $90 billion. In recent months, the International Monetary Fund and western creditors of Lebanon have sent experts and financial advisers to the country to find a practical solution to the financial crisis.

The 2019 Lebanese protests, nicknamed the Tax Intifada, are a series of country-wide, non-sectarian protests in response to the government’s failure to find solutions to an economic crisis that has been looming for the past year. It is suspected that the direct trigger to the protests were due to the planned taxes on gasoline, tobacco and online phone calls such as through WhatsApp, as country-wide protests broke out right after Cabinet talks of the taxes, due to be ratified by 22 October.

As experts at the height of the Greek financial crisis in recent years, the experts called on the Lebanese government to increase gasoline taxes and reduce the salaries of government employees and retirees. However, following the same advice could set the stage for intensification of grievances and protests, which observers predict could end at the end of the Coronavirus Crisis.

In the current situation, they believe, only the fear of being infected with the coronavirus kept protesters at home. Protesters who, until a month ago, still breathed new life into the government.

The reasons for the massive protests, that finally led to the inauguration of Prime Minister Hassan Diab on January 21 this year, were the sharp rise in unemployment, an increase in taxes, a shortage of electricity, and corruption in the country. According to available reports, the number of unemployed in Lebanon alone increased by 400,000 in 2018 alone.

Now, three weeks after the start of the state of emergency, the government does not know what it will do with the heavy costs of spreading the coronavirus and closing land, sea and air borders. Lebanon’s economy is heavily dependent on neighboring Arab countries. In addition to a complete boycott of Hezbollah, they have limited their financial ties with the Lebanese central government.

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Joyce Davis

My history goes back to 2002 and I  worked as a reporter, interviewer, news editor, copy editor, managing editor, newsletter founder, almanac profiler, and news radio broadcaster.

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