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Brawls in Lebanon's north over rationed fuel leave 3 dead

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A Lebanese flag waves during a remembrance ceremony at the port of Lebanon's capital, on the first anniversary of the blast that ravaged the port and the city. Hundreds of Lebanese marched on August 4 to mark a year since a cataclysmic explosion, protesting impunity over the country's worst peacetime disaster. (Photo: Patrick Baz / AFP)

BEIRUT —Two separate brawls over scarce fuel in northern Lebanon have left three people dead, state media and security sources said, as shortages spark a wave of confrontations at gas stations.اضافة اعلان

Lebanon, grappling with an economic crisis branded by the World Bank as one of the planet's worst since the mid-19th century, has been gripped by a fuel crisis since the start of summer.

Nearly 80 percent of the country's population now live in poverty, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said last week, a proportion far higher than last year's figure of 50 percent or so.

Fuel importers, who blame the fuel crisis on a delay by the dollar-starved central bank in opening credit lines to fund imports, have severely rationed supply, even after the government agreed to raised petrol and diesel prices by more than a third in June.

This has generated hours-long queues at pumping stations, where shouting matches, fist fights and even live fire have often required security forces to intervene.

On Monday, a man was shot at a gas station in the northern Lebanon village of Bakhoun, following a fight that broke out when a motorist tried to cut a long queue, a security source told AFP.

The man later died of his wounds in hospital. 

The killer handed himself over to the army, the official National News Agency reported. 

A separate fight "related to the sale and purchase of fuel" in the northern city of Tripoli on Friday left another two people dead, NNA said. 

A security source told AFP that the killing came days after an initial fight broke out between motorists at a gas station over fuel purchases. 

In retaliation, two young men involved in that fight were targeted by live fire and a hand grenade early Friday morning, killing them.

Their families held funerals in Tripoli on Friday.

Shortages have given rise to a vibrant black market, where fuel is sometimes sold at double the price set by the state. 

Lebanese officials blame the fuel crisis on smuggling to Syria and stockpiling by distributors seeking to sell at higher prices.

Beside a raft of shortages, Lebanon is also grappling with soaring poverty and a spiraling devaluation of the Lebanese pound, which has lost more than 90 percent of its black market value.

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