BEIRUT: Several hundred people gathered in Downtown Beirut to protest against Lebanon’s worsening economic and living conditions for a second consecutive Sunday. Recent events have brought the country’s precarious financial situation to the forefront of public concern. After expanding by just a quarter of a percent in 2018, the economy has not grown in 2019.
In addition, citizens have already been squeezed by a wave of austerity measures imposed by the government, which is seeking to address questions about the state’s ability to service more than $85 billion in debt, as well as satisfy international donors.
“It is our right to protest,” said MP Paula Yacoubian, who joined the protesters Sunday.
“The decision is [in the hands of] the people. The people of Lebanon are told to remain at home ... but the real anger [should be shown] on the streets,” she said.
The protesters gathered in Martyrs’ Square, moved to Riad al-Solh square and then stood outside the Grand Serail. Riot police guarded the government’s headquarters.
Lebanon’s dire situation is reflected in the apparent lack of U.S. currency in the country’s highly dollarized economy. This led to unofficial exchange rates considerably higher than the authorized trading band of LL1,501-1,514 to the dollar.
The lack of dollars had caused Lebanon’s fuel companies to plan a strike for Monday.
However, the action was suspended after the Association of Petroleum Importing Companies received assurances from Prime Minister Saad Hariri Saturday that banks will exchange currency for fuel importers daily, in coordination with Banque du Liban, at the official exchange rate set by” BDL, the country’s central bank.
“Fuel importing companies will continue to issue bills in U.S. dollars, but will get paid in Lebanese pounds,” Sami Brax, head of the Syndicate of Gas Station Owners, said Sunday.
The APIC said its members will deliver the fuel to their customers, who will pay in Lebanese pounds as per a deal reached between the importers, gas station owners and Hariri late last month.