Clashes in Lebanon over price hikes turn deadly

A Lebanese demonstrator gestures to a Lebanese soldier, during a protest against the collapsing Lebanese pound currency and the price hikes, in Zouk, north of Beirut, Lebanon April 27, 2020.
A Lebanese demonstrator gestures to a Lebanese soldier, during a protest against the collapsing Lebanese pound currency and the price hikes, in Zouk, north of Beirut, Lebanon April 27, 2020. © Mohamed Azakir, Reuters

Anger over the crash of Lebanon's national currency that sent food prices soaring boiled over into street violence overnight in the northern city of Tripoli, where a man wounded in clashes between protesters and security forces died Tuesday. 


The violence in Tripoli, Lebanon’s second-largest city with soaring unemployment and poverty, erupted late on Monday and lasted well after midnight as angry protesters hurled Molotov cocktails at several banks and caused wide damage. 

Protests also erupted elsewhere in Lebanon, leaving scores injured and more than a dozen people detained, according to the Lebanese military.

The army said a fire-bomb was thrown at one of its vehicles and a hand grenade was hurled at a patrol during rioting in Tripoli, lightly wounding two soldiers. Public and private property had been attacked and banks set on fire, it said.

The army blamed “troublemakers who had infiltrated the protesters to attack banks", throwing firebombs and grenades at the military and setting a military vehicle on fire. It said 54 troops were injured across the country and that the army detained 13 people.

All banks in Tripoli shut

Lebanon’s banking association declared all banks in Tripoli shut from Tuesday until security is restored, saying banks had been targeted in "serious attacks and rioting".

Lebanon's banks have been a frequent target of protesters during the financial and economic crisis that has led to the collapse in the value of the Lebanese pound and frozen savers out of their deposits.

The long-brewing crisis came to a head last year as capital inflows to Lebanon slowed and protests erupted against its political elite. Since then, the pound has lost more than half its value, fuelling inflation in a country heavily dependent on imports.

Hezbollah criticises central bank governor

Lebanon's powerful Hezbollah movement on Tuesday criticised the country’s central bank over the pound's drop to record lows against the US dollar and said the bank’s governor was partly responsible, according media reports.

The comments about the bank's governor, Riad Salameh, by Hezbollah deputy leader Sheikh Naim Qassem followed criticisms against Salameh by Prime Minister Hassan Diab Diab last week.

Diab blamed the longstanding central bank governor for the currency's crash and broader financial fallout. Influential parliament speaker Nabih Berri then warned of the danger of removing him.

On Tuesday, Qassem said the crisis pointed to a "negative performance" by the bank and said Salameh was responsible for the currency crash "but not on his own" in comments cited by broadcaster al-Jadeed.

Qassem said the "appropriate decision" must be taken to put the "country's interest ahead of all else" without providing details. 

Currency dealers arrested for violating selling price cap

To halt the pound's slide on a parallel market that is the primary source of hard currency amid a severe shortage, the central bank capped the selling price of dollars at 3,200 for exchange dealers.

Some dealers were selling small quantities of dollars at 4,200 pounds on Tuesday, according to one importer. A second importer said he was unable to buy any dollars. One currency dealer cited a buying price of 4,000 pounds.

Several dealers were arrested on Monday for violating the cap and a syndicate representing them said exchange bureaus would shut until they were released and the situation was resolved.

The official rate remains pegged at 1507.5 pounds to the dollar at banks, but the price remains available only for vital imports - wheat, fuel, and medicine.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP, AP and REUTERS)


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