Heavy gunfire echoed through the streets of Beirut on Thursday after a morning of protests that turned into violent clashes that left at least four dead and more than two dozen injured, authorities said and a video of the scene said.
The Lebanese army has been deployed to try to calm the streets, responding to reports of snipers hiding on rooftops and carrying out shootings. It was not immediately clear what had triggered the clashes.
The violence has focused on two neighborhoods with long-standing tensions – one a stronghold for a Shia Muslim faction and another for a Christian faction, according to a live video of the scene broadcast by Al Jazeera.
The day began with supporters of the Shia militant and political group Hezbollah and its allies, dressed in black, gathered at the Beirut courthouse. They demanded the removal of Judge Tarek Bitar from the investigation into the huge 2020 explosion in the port of Beirut, accusing him of bias.
Lebanon, a small Mediterranean country still haunted by a 15-year civil war that ended in 1990, is in the throes of a financial collapse which the World Bank says may be among the worst in the world since the mid-1800s .
It is closing in on families whose value for money has plummeted while the cost of almost everything has skyrocketed.
Since autumn 2019, the Lebanese pound has lost 90% of its value and annual inflation in 2020 was 84.9%. In June, the prices of consumer goods had almost quadrupled over the previous two years, according to government statistics.
The huge explosion a year ago in the port of Beirut, which killed more than 200 people and left much of the capital in ruins, has only added to the desperation.
The explosion has exacerbated the country’s long-brewing economic crisis, and there is little relief in sight.
Years of corruption and bad policies have left the state deeply in debt and the central bank unable to continue to support the currency, as it has for decades, due to declining foreign cash flow in the country. country. Now the economy’s bottom has fallen, leaving shortages of food, fuel and medicine.
All Lebanese except the wealthy have cut meat from their diets and stand in long lines to refuel their cars, sweating on sweltering summer nights from prolonged power cuts .