Gunmen take to streets in Lebanese city over economic crisis

BEIRUT (AP) — Gunmen took to the streets in the northern Lebanese city of Tripoli on Wednesday, firing in the air and at times throwing stones at soldiers amid rising anger at power cuts, fuel shortages and soaring prices.

The anger was fueled by rumors that a young girl died after electricity cuts stopped a machine that supplied her with oxygen. A Lebanese security official denied the rumors and reports on social media about the girl. He spoke on condition of anonymity in line with regulations.

Tripoli, Lebanon’s second largest and most impoverished city, has witnessed acts of violence in recent days linked to the country’s severe economic and financial crisis. The World Bank has described the crisis as one of the worst the world has witnessed over the past 150 years. It is coupled with a political deadlock that has left Lebanon without a government since August.

The economic crisis has been the most serious threat to Lebanon’s stability since the 15-year civil war ended in 1990. Tens of thousands of people have lost their jobs since October 2019 in the small nation of 6 million, including a million Syrian refugees.

Lebanon’s 20-month economic and financial crisis has led to severe shortages in fuel, medicine and medical products. Electricity cuts last for much of the day and lack of diesel has led the owners of some private generators to cease supplying power.

After the rumors spread in Tripoli on Wednesday, armed men deployed in the streets of some poor neighborhoods and opened fire in the air. Soldiers briefly pulled out from some areas, apparently to avoid a clash with the gunmen.

Later in the day, the army patrolled the areas that witnessed gunfire, state-run National News Agency reported.

A Tripoli resident told The Associated Press that he closed his shop and went home when the shooting started, adding that it lasted for about four hours. Later in the afternoon, shooting was heard again in the city.

Hundreds of people have tried to migrate to Europe from northern Lebanon due to harsh economic conditions over the past two years and some have died before reaching their destination.

In the capital Beirut, protesters closed several roads Wednesday to express their anger over harsh living conditions.

Riots in Tripoli over the weekend left at least 20 people injured, half of them soldiers.

The army on Sunday said rioters on motorcycles threw stun grenades at troops in Tripoli injuring nine soldiers, while another was injured when hit by a rock. Protesters attacked several state institutions in the city.

In recent years, Tripoli has witnessed rounds of fighting between supporters and opponents of Syria’s government.