Lebanon’s wounded protesters: 'This is the fight of our generation'

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Hind Al Soulia - Riyadh - On his coffee table, there are at least 10 different types of prescription drugs. Antibiotics, anti-inflammatories, creams, and a mouth rinse, to name just a few.

Jean-Georges Prince, 32, must be careful to keep clear of infections.

Some of the 56 stitches that were necessary to reconstruct his mouth and chin after he was shot by a rubber bullet are inside his lower lip.

The advertising professional was one of a dozen people who were injured by rubber bullets in Beirut on the evening of January 18 during the most violent stand-off with security forces since anti-government protests started on October 17.

“I can’t eat. I can barely sleep. The pain is very intense whenever the pain killers’ effect fades. But I feel lucky. Some got hit way worse. Some lost their eyes,” he said, speaking slowly and deliberately, his lower face still very swollen. “It’s absurd. Nobody expects to get shot in the face during protests.”

Like other injured protesters The National spoke to, Mr Prince refused to complain. “This is a revolution of hunger,” he said, citing the numerous economic problems that plague Lebanon, including a severe liquidity shortage that led to an outburst of violence against banks that have limited cash withdrawals since November.

In recent days the protests that began peacefully have increased in violence. Young Lebanese men have descended on Beirut from poverty-stricken pockets such as the northern city of Tripoli to attack security forces guarding Parliament with metal bars and rocks.

An anti-government protester holds a Lebanese flag during clashes with riot police in Beirut, Lebanon. Getty Images

Anti government protesters and riot police clash during a second day of violence. Getty Images

Special forces police advance as they push back the anti-government protesters in downtown Beirut. AP Photo

An anti-government protester covered by the smoke of the tear gas, sits in the middle of a street. AP Photo

Special forces police are illuminated by laser pointers from anti-government protesters. AP Photo

A window shop smashed by anti-government protesters is seen during a protest against the new government, in downtown Beirut. AP Photo

Men pass in front of a coffee shop that was smashed by anti-government protesters. AP Photo

A Lebanese anti-government protester hurls stones at riot police. AFP

Riot police forces block a road leading to the parliament during clashes with anti-government protesters. AFP

Riot police chase an anti-government protester. AFP

Riot police detain an anti-government protester. AFP

Teargas engulfs Red Cross medics as anti government protesters and riot police clash during a second day of violence. Getty Images

Army soldiers deploy on a street where anti-government protesters clash with riot police. AP Photo

An anti government protester fires fireworks at riot police as they clash during a second day of violence. Getty Images

Smoke rises as Lebanese army soldiers walk during a protest against the newly formed government in Beirut. Reuters

They demand a complete overhaul of the decades-old political system which has fostered corruption and crony capitalism. They are not happy with their leaders, who formed a new government on Tuesday after 34 days of closed-door negotiations.

Despite some fresh faces, the cabinet was appointed in the very manner that protesters reject. Ministers were hand-picked along sectarian lines by political parties that are often headed by former warlords from the 1975-1990 civil war.

Peaceful protesters like Mr Prince say that they feel empathy for the less well-off and more violent rioters. They want to keep taking to the streets to maintain pressure for deeper change.

“As soon as my stitches are out, I’ll be back,” he said. “This is the fight of our generation. Our parents were traumatised by the civil war. We are a generation who only knows how to live freely. We are not scared of violence because we do not expect it. We’re not going to stop. Either we try to save the country, or we lose it for another 30 years.”

Less than a kilometre away, in Saint George Hospital, Michel Razzouk, 47, winced in pain as his stomach wound was cleaned. The restaurant owner was also shot by a rubber bullet on Saturday evening. Like Mr Prince, his injury has not dampened his spirits.

“I was always determined for my country. This is the first time we should take off the clothes we have been wearing during these 30 years. Let’s just let it go,” he said, referring to the sectarian discourse that is prevalent in Lebanese society.

Because the riot police fired from just a few metres away, the plastic shell on the rubber bullet that hit him did not have time to fall off. Together, the rubber bullet and plastic shell burnt through his stomach fat and lodged there, creating a cavity roughly 5 centimetres deep.

“They say it’s equivalent to an impact of one or two tons, so it takes your breath out for a few minutes,” said Mr Razzouk. For him, his wound is proof that the police did not respect their own guidelines, which dictate that rubber bullets should be fired from 10 metres away and not higher than waist level.

The police reject such claims, saying that people injured above the waist were hurt as they were bending down to pick up stones to throw at security forces. Protesters and the police have engaged on a PR battle on social media, blaming each other for the violence.

For Eid Azar, chief of staff at Saint George hospital, wounds like Mr Razzouk’s demonstrate that riot police either chose to hurt protesters intentionally or were not trained properly.

“Either way, this is not something that should be used,” he said, highlighting the “catastrophic” consequences of eye injuries, of which there were at least four on Saturday. Two people lost their sight, Human Rights Watch said.

The public outcry seems to have prompted riot police to stop using them for now. “I hope the pressure will continue so that we will not get these types of injuries anymore," said Dr Azar.

Updated: January 24, 2020 05:02 PM

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