This content was published on January 29, 2021 – Jul 14:26,
TRIPOLI, Lebanon (Reuters) – On Friday, the Lebanese President and the head of the caretaker government condemned the violence that erupted at night in the city of Tripoli, when protesters angry at the lockdown measures clashed with security forces and set fire to the municipality building.
The unrest spread for the fourth consecutive night in one of Lebanon’s poorest cities after the government imposed a curfew throughout the day in an effort to curb the spread of Covid-19, which has killed more than 2,500 across the country.
The head of the caretaker government, Hassan Diab, said in a statement, “The criminals who burned the Tripoli municipality and tried to set fire to the Sharia court and wreaked havoc in the city and its official, educational and economic institutions, only expressed a deep black hatred for Tripoli and its violence.”
“The challenge now is to drop the goals of these criminals, to arrest them, one by one, and refer them to the judiciary to hold them accountable for what they committed against Tripoli and its steadfast people,” he added.
President Michel Aoun also denounced the violence.
The municipality building was torched, after it caught fire just before midnight on Thursday. Police fired tear gas at the demonstrators, who threw Molotov cocktails.
The funeral of a man who died from a gunshot wound on Wednesday evening was an occasion to stoke the fire of anger among the protesters. Security forces said they fired live ammunition to disperse rioters who tried to storm the government building.
On Friday, Diab’s statement did not mention the killing. Human Rights Watch called for an investigation into the incident.
Diab said, “The challenge that we commit ourselves to is that we will thwart the plan of the abusers, by promising to work quickly to rehabilitate the Tripoli municipality building, so that it remains an expression of the city’s pride and pure heritage rooted throughout history.”
The general isolation measures that began on January 11 add to the suffering of the poor, who account for more than half of the country’s population, with negligible government aid.
“We demand a state, we demand a country, and we demand the improvement of the social and political conditions in the city of Tripoli,” said Rabih Mina, a resident of Tripoli, who participated in the protests.
The financial collapse of the country may push the Lebanese to rely more on political factions for security and aid, in a reversal of the civil war and the domination of militias between 1975 and 1990.
Some analysts warn that the security forces, whose salaries are rapidly eroding, will not have the capacity to contain the growing unrest.
Naguib Mikati, a businessman, billionaire and former prime minister from Tripoli, warned on Friday that if the army was found unable to control the situation in his city quickly enough, it could be a prelude to serious unrest.
“If the army is not able to control the situation in Tripoli in the coming hours, we are going for the worse and I may take up arms to protect myself and my institutions,” Mikati told local media.
Lebanon is living in the worst financial crisis since 2019, and anger has turned into protests over the economy, corruption in state institutions and political mismanagement.
The lira’s collapse has raised fears of an increase in the number of people facing hunger, but Lebanese leaders have yet to launch a rescue plan or enact reforms that would allow foreign aid to flow in, prompting criticism, including from foreign donors.
Diab leads the caretaker government while divided politicians have been unable to reach an agreement on a new government since his resignation in the wake of the Beirut Port bombing on August 4, making Lebanon a rudderless ship amid growing poverty.
(Coverage by Maha Al Dahan from Beirut and Walid Salih from Tripoli – Edited by Ayman Saad Muslim for the Arabic Newsletter – Edited by Muhammad Al Yamani)