Fresh Lebanon protests over spiraling economic crisis
Angered by a deepening economic crisis, tens of thousands of demonstrators gathered in Lebanon’s capital Beirut for a third consecutive day on Saturday after a night of violent riots sparked condemnation from the political elite.
Rallying against the surging cost of living and the government’s apparent impotence in the face of the worst economic turmoil since the 1975-1990 civil war, protesters brandished flags and chanted slogans.
“We are here to demand the formation of a new transitional government and early parliamentary elections,” Nehmat Badreddine, an activist and demonstrator, said.
In the northern city of Tripoli, young men scuffled with security forces who fired rubber bullets to disperse crowds. The clashes there left more than 120 people injured, according to figures released by the Red Cross and local medical services.
Lebanon is caught in a spiraling economic crisis, including a rapid devaluation of the Lebanese pound, which has triggered a fresh wave of demonstrations since Thursday.
Lebanese media reported that the exchange rate had tumbled to 6,000 per dollar on the black market early on Friday, compared to the official peg of 1,507 in place since 1997.
After a crisis meeting on Friday, President Michel Aoun announced that the central bank would implement measures from Monday including “feeding dollars into the market,” in a bid to support the Lebanese pound.
Despite the government’s pledges, roughly 200 young men gathered on mopeds in central Beirut on Friday night. Some of them defaced shop fronts and set fire to stores, causing serious damage.
Security forces fired tear gas to disperse them and some of the young men threw stones and firecrackers in return, although clashes petered out after midnight.
The next day, Diab called on officials to assess damage in central Beirut. Former premier Saad Hariri toured the area, condemning the vandalism and riots.
Interior minister Mohammed Fahmi said security forces would find those responsible for damaging property in the capital.
Lebanon – one of the most indebted countries in the world with a sovereign debt of more than 170% of GDP – went into default in March. Unemployment has soared to 35% nationwide.
It started talks with the International Monetary Fund last month in a bid to unlock billions of dollars in financial aid. Dialogue is ongoing.