DUBAI: Calm reigned in Lebanon after a night of violence that left many injured as hundreds of demonstrators took to the streets of the small Mediterranean country to denounce the deterioration of living conditions.
Over the weekend, the Lebanese currency hit record highs, with market traders saying the pound was trading at just under 18,000 to the dollar. This represents a depreciation of almost 92% since the onset of the economic and financial crisis in October 2019.
Although it is still pegged to the dollar and the official rate is set at 1,507.5 pounds per greenback, the highly coveted hard currency is rare, giving way to the rise of a black market.
The northern port city of Tripoli, where meager government assistance and rising unemployment have made Lebanon’s second capital a hotbed of protests for the past 20 months, has seen dozens of angry residents attempt to storm the Town Hall before lighting a fire outside the building.
Nearby, armed clashes broke out between a group of demonstrators and guards of local deputy Mohamad Kabbara. According to the National News Agency, panic ensued after gunshots rang out before the Lebanese army restored order.
Images circulating on social media showed at least two people injured while local media reported that at least four people had been taken to a nearby hospital.
Protesters also charged the central bank offices in Tripoli, stepped through the metal gate and entered the courtyard before being repulsed by army soldiers. In a statement, the army said on Sunday that 10 of its members were injured in the clashes.
In the southern city of Saida, protesters targeted another branch of the central bank, which became the butt of Lebanese anger. Clashes also broke out between the security forces and demonstrators gathered in front of the branches of the national electricity company and the local water establishment.
Images circulating on social media also showed injured residents being transported in ambulances.
Protests also rocked the capital Beirut, with local media reporting protesters blocked roads with burning tires in a number of districts.
Lebanon has not had a fully functioning government for almost a year, as political actors fail to agree on the composition of the cabinet.
Prime Minister designate Saad Hariri, appointed in October, disagrees with President Michel Aoun on the appointment of ministers and the size of the government.
With the central bank’s currency reserves dwindling, officials decided to raise fuel prices from Monday.
Acting Prime Minister Hassan Diab on Friday approved the import of fuel at a rate of 3,900 pounds to the dollar, instead of the official rate of 1,507.5 pounds, weeks after gas stations began to ration the supply.