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Lebanese security forces tear down Beirut protest camp as country imposes coronavirus measures

Thousands of Lebanese protested against the government for months [Getty]

Date of publication: 29 March, 2020

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Lebanese security forces began tearing down the capital's main protest camp on Friday night, where thousands of protesters had demonstrated against authorities for months.

A protest camp in Lebanon’s capital city was stripped away by security forces on Saturday, as Beirut’s mocked roads began to open following months of anti-government protests.

The Martyrs’ Square protest camp, which had for weeks been the epicentre of the country’s demonstrations against the the governing elite, was cleared away as authorities imposed measures to stem the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Several dozen protesters who had remained at the camp since it was first erected on October 17 resisted the move on Friday night, with witnesses saying a demonstrator set himself on fire before being quickly smothered in blankets by members of the security forces, Reuters reported.

The authorities "are taking advantage of the fact that people are preoccupied with their health and confined to repress any dissenting voices", activist and film director Lucien Bourjeily tweeted.

One of the most indebted countries in the world, Lebanon is burdened by a public debt equivalent to more than 170 percent of GDP.

The unprecedented anti-government protests quickly spread across the country and sought to dislodge a ruling elite seen as incompetent and corrupt.

Read also: Lebanon will need more than social distancing and lockdown to beat coronavirus

The country is embroiled in one of its worst economic crises since the 1975-1990 civil war, now compounded by an outbreak of the novel coronavirus.

In a bid to halt the spread of the illness, the government has ordered a lockdown until April 12 and ordered all non-essential businesses to close.

The finance ministry's director-general Alain Bifani warned that the pandemic would only "exacerbate the deterioration of social conditions".

He said 45 percent of Lebanese already lived in poverty, and 22 percent in extreme poverty.

He predicted the economy would further contract by around 12 percent this year, and inflation would reach up to 25 percent.

Even before the coronavirus, prices had soared and many businesses had been forced to slash salaries, fire staff or close.

Read also: 
Lebanon will need more than social distancing and lockdown to beat coronavirus

The COVID-19 virus, which was first detected in China's Wuhan in December, has killed more than 30,900 people worldwide, while over 665,295 infections have been confirmed.

The majority of those that infected with corona experience only mild or moderate symptoms, including fever and a dry cough.

As of yet, there are no known treatments for the virus, though more than 142,474 have already recovered from the infection.

recent report by Human Rights Watch (HRW) has shed light on the growing issue of a lack of medical supplies in Lebanon, where over 412 people have tested positive for the novel coronavirus.

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