May 20. 2024. 11:37

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Demonstrators block roads in Tripoli with 80% of Lebanese population in poverty

Lebanon’s multiple crises have continued to take a toll on the country and its people. Demonstrators on Friday blocked roads in the northern port city of Tripoli to protest about the fall over four years of the country’s currency from 1,500 to 80,000 Lebanese pounds to the dollar, and the plunge of 80 per cent of Lebanese into poverty.

People also rallied outside banks, which have been on strike since February 7th. Protests are set to continue until salaries are paid at rate approved by the central bank. Limited withdrawals of dollars and Lebanese pounds are available only through ATMs.

Caretaker economy minister Amin Salam announced that prices of goods at grocery stores will be fixed in dollars based on what he said was “modest” interpretation of the black market rate. Petrol and heating fuel prices are already fixed in dollars.

The Lebanese army was deployed in the southern port city of Sidon on Thursday as a precautionary measure as tensions spiked across the country, the official news agency reported. Several banks were ransacked in Tripoli and six Beirut banks were set alight with burning tyres in operations organised by The Depositors’ Cry, group which represents the interests of account holders. Other banks were stoned and their facades smashed.

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Attacks on banks marked an escalation in the crisis. Armed and unarmed depositors have previously staged bank heists to gain access to funds in their accounts. The cash crisis has been caused by the lack of foreign currencies, which once shored up Lebanon’s currency and paid for imports.

Protesters have targeted banks as they are held responsible for the economic debacle while politicians are blamed for the mismanagement and corruption that has wrecked Lebanon. Partisan infighting has left the country without a fully empowered government to tackle reforms that would secure $21 billion (€19.6 billion) in international funds and with a legislature that is too divided to elect a new president following the October retirement of Michel Aoun.

Writing on the L’Orient Today website, columnist Jeanine Jalkh quoted Lebanese who could not understand why their countrymen and women allowed the situation to deteriorate to reach the current state.

“Had the French been stripped of their bank deposits as was done in Lebanon, heads would be severed on Place de la Concorde,” stated Karim Bitar, director of the Institute of Political Science at Saint Joseph University.

Ms Jalk pointed out that there has been no mass action since the October 2019 uprising which faltered during the pandemic. “With the exception of a few angry outbursts of limited duration and effect – sporadic road closures illuminated by burning tires, rallies that wither after 24 or 48 hours – no real, long-term action has been initiated.” She asked, “What is preventing the people from turning the tables on their oppressors and ending this descent into hell?”