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Lebanese security forces tear down camp at centre of protest movement

The camp centred around Martyrs' Square was removed as protesters scuffled with security forces
A strict curfew came into place this week in response to the coronavirus (Reuters)

Lebanese security forces on Saturday cleared away a Beirut protest camp that served as the focal point for demonstrations against the governing elite starting in October.

The move comes as authorities tightened measures to restrict movement in an effort to contain the spread of the coronavirus. A state emergency was declared on 15 March, but this week a strict curfew came into place banning people from leaving their homes from 7pm to 5am (17.00 - 03.00 GMT).

Lebanon has recorded 412 coronavirus cases and eight deaths.

Security forces were met with resistance from scores of protestors on Friday night as they began to tear down the Martyrs' Square camp and reopen roads that had been blocked for months. One protestor set himself on fire before being smothered in blankets by security forces, a Reuters witness said.  

The October protests were fuelled by rampant corruption and bad governance by Lebanon’s ruling elite, leading to Saad al-Hariri to quit as prime minister, toppling his government.

Scuffles broke out on Martyrs' Square last month between security forces and protestors who rejected Prime Minister Hassan Diab's government lineup as being a continuation of the old political elite. Around 300 protesters were wounded in the confrontations, according to the Lebanese Red Cross, with 40 rushed to hospital.

But the camp has become dormant in recent months as protests waned.

Measures to contain the virus present a further blow to the country’s already moribund economy. The government declared this month it could not pay foreign currency debts and the local currency has sunk by some 40 percent since October.