Lebanon clears protest camps to contain Covid-19

Beirut, Mar 28 (efe-epa).- Lebanese security forces began dismantling the remains of the encampment set up in Beirut’s Martyrs Square by the protesters who poured into the streets last October, the government said Saturday.

The tents were removed “within the framework of the protection of peaceful protesters against the risk of the coronavirus and as a gesture of goodwill toward them,” the Interior Ministry said in a statement.

At the same time, the ministry cited an increase in acts of aggression against people and property by some occupants of the camp as a reason for the move.

Also taken down were the tents in Riad al-Solh Square, the site of the other major concentration of protesters in the capital. All of the tents from both squares were disinfected, the Interior Ministry said.

The uprising, which erupted on Oct. 17, was spurred by popular rage over the corruption of the ruling class and demands for an end to Lebanon’s sectarian political system, which reserves the presidency for a Christian and the prime minister’s office for a Sunni Muslim prime minister, while the speaker of the parliament must be a Shiite Muslim.

While the movement has yet to secure fundamental change, the protests succeeded in forcing Saad Hariri to step down as prime minister.

Though the protests were peaceful in the beginning, that changed in December, when clashes between demonstrators and security forces left thousands injured.

A spokesperson for the Sabaa independent party, which maintained a presence in Martyrs Square, told Efe Saturday that once party members abandoned the site due to the coronavirus, homeless people occupied the tents.

Some Sabaa activists remained in the square to aid the homeless, Malek Kabrit said, adding that those activists actively resisted the security forces when they started removing the tents on Friday.

The Lebanese government has imposed a 7.00 pm-5.00 am curfew through April 12 as part of measures to prevent the spread of the virus.

Lebanon has sealed its borders, shut down Beirut International Airport and ordered the majority of businesses to close to deal with the pandemic, which comes amid ongoing economic crisis and political instability in the country.

The Health Ministry says that Lebanon has 412 confirmed coronavirus cases and eight deaths. EFE ijm-amo/ta/dr

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