BEIRUT: Due to increasingly difficult living conditions, hundreds of people protested in Lebanon’s capital on Sunday, amid fears of a dollar shortage and possible price hikes.
A photographer of an international news agency said a skirmish broke out as protesters tried to break through security barriers in front of the cabinet office and anti-riot forces pushed them back with shields and batons.
Demonstrators cut off several Beirut thoroughfares in the early afternoon, some with burning tires billowing black smoke.
Protesters around 500 people had gathered in central Beirut’s Martyr Square to march to the seats of government and parliament with some carrying Lebanese flags. “Revolution, revolution,“ cried some of the protesters.
“Government, parliament … Thieves, thieves!”Others chanted a popular refrain of the 2011 Arab Spring protests across the region: “The people want the fall of the regime”.
“We toil day and night just to be able to live,“ said a 52-year-old Lebanese woman outside parliament.“They’ve starved us, stolen from us. Enough is enough,“ she said.
To rescue the economy crumbling under massive debt and unlocking billions of dollars in international aid, Parliament passed an austerity budget in July.
However, this week, fears of a dollar shortage have sparked anxiety over a possible devaluation of the Lebanese pound and price hikes.
It was reported that banks and money exchange houses were rationing their sales of dollars, which are used alongside the pound in daily transactions.
Facing a currency reserve crisis was denied by the head of the central bank, however withdrawing dollars from ATMs in Beirut has become very difficult.
Lebanon’s economic growth has plunged in the wake of repeated political deadlocks in recent years, compounded by eight years of war in neighboring Syria.
According to the finance ministry, the public debt of Lebanon now stands at around $86 billion — more than 150% of gross domestic product (GDP).
Eighty percent of that figure is owed to Lebanon’s central bank and local banks.
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