Protests in Lebanon over economic crisis, political deadlock

Demonstrators burnt tyres to block main roads all over Lebanon for the seventh straight day on Monday in anger at more than a year of economic crisis

Anger in Beirut

Demonstrators burnt tyres to block main roads all over Lebanon for the seventh straight day on Monday in anger at more than a year of economic crisis and seven months of political paralysis.

"We have said several times that there will be an escalation because the state isn't doing anything," said Pascale Nohra, a protester in Jal al-Dib."

Protests at the start of Lebanon's financial crisis in 2019 brought hundreds of thousands onto the streets to bring down the government.

(Photograph:AFP)

Deteriorating value of local currency

A bandana-clad anti-government demonstrator gestures as she stands by the smoke of burning tires at a make-shift roadblock in Zouk Mosbeh north of Lebanon's capital Beirut during a protest against the deteriorating value of the local currency and dire economic and social conditions.

(Photograph:AFP)

Tyres burnt in protest

On Monday, three main roads leading south into the capital from Zouk, Jal al-Dib and al-Dawra were blocked while, in Beirut itself, protesters briefly blocked a main road in front of the central bank.

In Tyre, one man tried to burn himself by pouring gasoline on his body but civil defense stopped him in time, the state news agency said.

Tens of thousands of jobs have been lost in the crisis, bank accounts have been frozen and many have started to go hungry.

After an explosion devastated whole tracts of Beirut in August, the next government resigned.

But the new prime minister-designate, Saad al-Hariri, is at loggerheads with President Michel Aoun and has been unable to form a new government to carry out the reforms that would unlock billions of dollars of international aid.

(Photograph:AFP)

Government in disarray

Since the Lebanese pound tumbled to a new low last Tuesday, protesters have been blocking roads daily.

On Saturday, caretaker prime minister Hassan Diab threatened to quit to raise the pressure on those blocking the formation of a new government.

Diab is meeting with President Aoun, several caretaker ministers, the central bank chief and financial and security officials on Monday, the state news agency said.

Maronite Patriarch Bechara Boutros al-Rai hit out at the politicians in his Sunday sermon:

"How can the people not revolt when the price of one dollar has surpassed 10,000 Lebanese pounds in one day, how can they not revolt when the minimum wage is $70?"

Rai has called for an UN-sponsored international conference to help Lebanon.

(Photograph:AFP)

'Major inflationary repercussions'

Anti-government demonstrators stand behind the smoke of burning tires at a make-shift roadblock in Zouk Mosbeh north of Lebanon's capital Beirut. 

In early December, central bank governor Riad Salameh said it could only fund subsidies for another two months. Later that month, he said two billion dollars were available for them.

At the end of February, the central bank's website showed it had $17.9 billion in foreign currency reserves, yet $17.5 billion of that is the bank's required reserves.

The UN food agency has warned any subsidy reduction would have "major inflationary repercussions" and "put an unbearable strain on households".

(Photograph:AFP)

80% population would receive handouts

Under the government's latest plan, subsidies could be gradually lifted, with financial aid to soften the blow over several years.

The state would first lift subsidies for bread, fuel and around 300 other items, under the plan seen by AFP, before later on reviewing spending in the electricity sector.

To compensate, up to 80 per cent of the population would receive handouts -- 50 dollars a month for adults aged over 23 and half for anybody younger.

(Photograph:AFP)

Lebanese pound falls

Lebanon's financial crisis, which erupted in 2019, has wiped out jobs, raised warnings of growing hunger and locked people out of their bank deposits. 

In the past year, Lebanon has been through a popular uprising against its political leaders, the bankruptcy of the state and banking system, a COVID-19 pandemic and, in August, a huge blast that killed 200 people and destroyed parts of Beirut.

The collapse of the Lebanese pound, which fell to 10,000 to the dollar on Tuesday was the last straw for many who have seen prices of consumer goods such as diapers or cereals nearly triple since the crisis erupted.

(Photograph:AFP)

Political instability

Prime Minister-designate Saad al-Hariri was nominated in October but has failed to form a new cabinet due to the political deadlock between him and President Michel Aoun.

Groups of protesters have been burning tyres daily to block roads since the Lebanese currency tumbled to a new low enraging a population long horrified by the country's financial meltdown.

(Photograph:AFP)

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