Published: Fri, January 17, 2020
Global News | By Blake Casey

Lebanon protests reignite in the streets after weeks of relative calm

Lebanon protests reignite in the streets after weeks of relative calm

As politicians fail to form a new government and an unprecedented economic crisis keeps on deepening, protesters took to the streets of Lebanon in a new wave of demonstrations that saw the use of violence by security forces. Lebanon's Internal Security forces later said "vandals" attacked the central bank and injured a number of the personnel guarding it. Security forces separated the protesters from the bank's entrance. Security forces fired several rounds of tear gas while protesters lobbed rocks and fireworks.

They splattered walls with graffiti, vandalised street signs and sparked a blaze outside the Association of Banks, as part of what protesters have billed a "week of wrath".

That has trapped depositors' savings in Lebanon's worst economic crisis since the civil war of 1975-1990. The 10 others were treated on the spot.

With little change in sight, protesters also angered by a financial crisis they blame on Lebanon's oligarchs and the Central Bank resumed their rallies with renewed determination on Tuesday after a holiday lull.

Banks have since September arbitrarily capped the amount of dollars customers can withdraw or transfer overseas, in a country where the greenback and the Lebanese pound are used interchangeably.

"It has been over 90 days since the beginning of the protests and to this day the authorities have completely failed to address the demands of the protests", said Lynn Maalouf, Amnesty International's Middle East director.

Demonstrators accuse banks of holding their deposits hostage while allowing politicians, senior civil servants and bank owners to move funds overseas.

Though the government has imposed no formal policy, most lenders have limited withdrawals to about $1,000 (€900) a month, while others have created even tighter curbs.

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Sparked by a grinding liquidity crunch, the informal controls are increasingly forcing depositors to deal in the plummeting Lebanese pound. The local currency has lost over 60% of its value - dropping for the first time in almost three decades from a fixed rate of 1,507 pounds to the dollar to 2,400 in just the past few weeks.

The official rate was set at 1,507 Lebanese pounds per dollar in 1997.

The central bank has announced it is investigating capital flight, saying it wants to standardise and regulate the ad-hoc banking restrictions.

Lebanon has been swept by a wave of mostly peaceful protests aimed at the country's elite that prompted Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri to resign on October 29, pushing the country deeper into economic crisis.

Protests had dwindled to symbolic gatherings since last month when Hassan Diab, a professor and former education minister, was designate premier.

Hariri called the unrest "unacceptable", while parliament speaker Nabih Berri questioned whether the aim was to "destroy the country".

"Another day of confusion around the formation of a government", Jan Kubis, UN special coordinator for Lebanon, wrote on Twitter.

"Politicians, don't blame the people, blame yourselves for this unsafe chaos", he said.

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