Live Updates: Deadly Clashes Erupt in Beirut
Heavy gunfire echoed through the streets of Beirut on Thursday after a morning of protests descended into violent clashes that left at least four dead and more than two dozen injured, according to the authorities and video from the scene.
The Lebanese military was deployed to try to calm the streets, responding to reports of snipers hiding on rooftops and running gun battles. It was not immediately clear what set off the clashes.
The violence was focused on two neighborhoods with longstanding tensions — one a stronghold for a Shiite Muslim faction and another for a Christian faction, according to live video from the scene broadcast by Al Jazeera.
The day began with supporters of the Shiite militant and political group Hezbollah and its allies, wearing black, gathered at the Beirut Justice Palace. They called for the removal of Judge Tarek Bitar from the investigation into the huge 2020 explosion at the Beirut port, accusing him of bias.
A New York Times visual investigation looked into the causes behind the disaster, which killed more than 200 people and was so powerful that the second explosion was felt as far away as Cyprus.
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 that the World Bank has said could rank among the world’s worst since the mid-1800s.
It is closing like a vise on families whose money has plummeted in value while the cost of nearly everything has skyrocketed.
Since fall 2019, the Lebanese pound has lost 90 percent of its value, and annual inflation in 2020 was 84.9 percent. As of June, prices of consumer goods had nearly quadrupled in 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 a large swath of the capital in shambles, only added to the desperation.
The blast exacerbated the country’s economic crisis, which was long in the making, 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 keep propping up the currency, as it had for decades, because of a drop in foreign cash flows into the country. Now, the bottom has fallen out of the economy, leaving shortages of food, fuel and medicine.
All but the wealthiest Lebanese have cut meat from their diets and wait in long lines to fuel their cars, sweating through sweltering summer nights because of extended power cuts.