Lebanese Army Fires Gunshots Near Tripoli as Lebanon Protest Hits Tenth Day

Army says it both used rubber bullets and fired live rounds into the air as it tried to open up a road blocked by protesters in the north of the country, causing several injuries

Lebanese soldiers stand guard as anti-government protesters sit on the ground to block a road in Hazmiyeh, a suburb of Beirut, Lebanon, Saturday, October 26, 2019. 
Bilal Hussein,AP

Protesters trickled back on to the streets across Lebanon on Saturday, despite army efforts to unblock roads, with no end in sight to a crisis that has crippled the country for 10 days.

The Lebanese army said it fired gunshots into the air after a clash at a protest road-block near the northern city of Tripoli on Saturday, injuring several people.

The army said it had intervened to break up a skirmish between protesters and people trying to drive their cars on the road. Stones and fireworks were thrown at soldiers, injuring five of them, it said in a statement.

Riot police remove an anti-government protester blocking a main highway with his body in Beirut, Lebanon, Saturday, October 26, 2019.   
Hussein Malla,AP

After using tear gas, the army said it then fired into the air and also used rubber bullets wounding several people.

A witness also said soldiers shot into the air after trying to re-open a road out of Tripoli that some protesters had been blocking, near the Beddawi Palestinian refugee camp.

A military statement said army and security commanders met to plan ways to re-open main arteries to get traffic flowing again while "safeguarding the safety of protesters." People have closed routes with barriers and sit-ins as part of a wave of protests demanding the government resign.

Demonstrators take part in an anti-government protest in Tripoli, Lebanon October 20, 2019.
\ OMAR IBRAHIM/ REUTERS

Demonstrators accuse the Lebanese political class of corruption, mismanagement of state finances and pushing the country toward an economic collapse unseen since the 1975-90 civil war. Banks, schools, and many businesses shut their doors in the wake of the protest.

"We won't leave the streets because this is the only card that people can pressure with," Yehya al-Tannir, an actor protesting at a makeshift barricade on a main bridge in the capital Beirut. "We won't leave until our demands are met."

Troops and riot police deployed to main roads across Lebanon on Saturday. The forces re-opened some roads for a few hours in the morning before people gathered again.

A demonstrator wears a face mask during a protest over the deteriorating economic situation, in Tripoli, Lebanon October 18, 2019.
\ OMAR IBRAHIM/ REUTERS

On a main bridge in Beirut, riot police scuffled with protesters who were sitting on the ground to keep it closed. Protesters resisted efforts earlier this week to open some roads, including along a main south-north highway.

Banks will stay closed until life returns to normal and will pay month-end salaries through ATMs, the Association of Banks in Lebanon has said. It has held crisis meetings in recent days amid growing fears that a rush on the banks when they reopen could deplete dwindling foreign currency deposits.

Emergency reforms 

The protests have continued to grip Lebanon despite the government announcing an emergency reform package this week that failed to defuse anger. It has also yet to reassure foreign donors to unlock the billions in badly needed aid they have pledged.

Lebanon has one of the world's highest levels of government debt as a share of economic output.

The size and geographic reach of the protests have been extraordinary in a country where political movements have long been divided along sectarian lines and struggle to draw nationwide appeal.

On Saturday, the first day of Lebanon's weekend, people milled around to patriotic music, waving Lebanese flags and banners in central Beirut.

In the southern coastal city of Saida, some shops opened their doors after days of closure.

"Shopkeepers are opening up to see if they can get things moving. The end of the month is near, people have rents to pay," said protester Hoda Hafez. "But in the end, they will all take part and come down to the (protest) square."

The leader of Lebanon's powerful Hezbollah movement, backed by Iran, warned on Friday against a power vacuum and urged followers to stay away from the protests after they confronted demonstrators in central Beirut.

On Friday, aggressive groups of people chanting in solidarity with Hezbollah pushed into a peaceful demonstration in Beirut, scuffling with protesters and prompting riot police to intervene.