Protests resume in Lebanon as lawmakers return to work

By Isaac J. Martín

Beirut, Apr 21 (efe-epa).- Lebanese protesters returned to the streets of Beirut on Tuesday as lawmakers resumed their work a month after the coronavirus crisis prompted restrictive measures in the Middle Eastern country.

One of the main differences at the street protests this time around was that participants gathered in cars in order to comply with the social-distancing rules.

Parliamentary sessions have also changed, and are not being held at the capital’s Parliament building but rather UNESCO Palace, which is bigger and allows MPs to respect distancing protocol as well.

Wearing masks, politicians discussed several bills during the session, including a controversial amnesty law that could open the door for politicians accused of corruption to avoid punishment.

Protesters in cars hoisted the Lebanese flag and approached the building chanting slogans including: “the revolution continues.”

Dozens of protesters also gathered at the Martyrs’ Square, epicenter of the uprising, where a couple of people were selling masks decorated with paintings of the Lebanese flag.

Ali Haidar, one of the protesters, told Efe that the demonstrators had called for the rallies on social media. The marches have so far remained leaderless.

“If we stopped protesting in the streets it doesn’t mean that our revolution is over,” he said while putting the Lebanese flag on his back.

On 17 October, Lebanese people took to the streets to protest against the ruling class. The movement eventually prompted Saad Hariri to resign as prime minister.

As well as the coronavirus, Lebanon has been going through one of its worst economic crises in decades with the public debt surpassing $90 billion, which represents 170 percent of the gross domestic product.

Under these circumstances, the government failed to pay a foreign debt for the first time in the country’s history.

“The government gave us two choices: either we die from corona or hunger,” Haidar added. The Lebanese government on Tuesday announced it had not registered any new infections in the past 24 hours. The contagion has not surpassed five cases daily over the last few days.

The total coronavirus infections in Lebanon stands at 677 in a country of six million inhabitants.

In late February, the government shut down schools and universities and on 15 March it closed the borders and imposed a curfew that has been eased over the past few days as the transmission rate went down.

Lebanon is one of the Middle Eastern countries that has best managed the crisis. Just 21 people have died.

The Arab country reported its first coronavirus case on 21 February, a woman coming from Iran, one of the worst-hit countries by the new coronavirus virus.

The fact that the government closed the country “early” had “a significant role in the rapid decrease regarding infected coronavirus cases,” said Firas Abiad, CEO of the Rafic Al Hariri state-run hospital, the first accredited healthcare center to admit Covid-19 patients.

These rapid actions allowed the hospitals to be ready, avoiding a collapse of the health system in a country that has been through a severe economic crisis, he told Efe. EFE-EPA


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