Protesters took to the streets across Lebanon on Thursday as reports said the dollar was selling at at historic rate of LBP 7,000 on the black market. The protesters blocked most of the country’s roads in scenes reminiscent of the October 17 uprising.
In central Beirut, protesters rallied outside the headquarters of the Association of Banks before blocking the Saifi road and the iconic Ring highway. The Ring protesters were later joined by young men who arrived from Khandaq al-Ghamiq and other areas on scooters, sparking joint chants against sectarianism.
Roads were also blocked in Beirut’s southern suburbs and in the capital’s Salim Salam, Corniche al-Mazraa, Qasqas and Verdun areas. The road was also blocked outside the central bank in Hamra.
Protesters meanwhile blocked the country’s coastal highway in Tripoli, Jbeil, Zouk, Jal el-Dib, Nahr el-Mot, Khalde, Costa Brava, Saadiyat and Naameh. They also blocked roads in Sidon, Tyre, Baalbek and other areas in South, North, Bekaa, Chouf and Aley.
In Sidon, protesters hurled Molotov cocktails at the city’s central bank branch, setting its outer entrance ablaze. Demonstrators also tried to storm the central bank’s branches in Tripoli and Tyre.
Shops and companies had earlier closed in the Barbir, Maqased and Mazraa areas in Beirut “in protest at the hysterical rise in the dollar exchange rate and their inability to continue running their businesses,” the National News Agency said. They also hung banners condemning the economic and social situations.
The traders associations of Tripoli, Akkar and Baalbek meanwhile called on businesses to close on Friday in protest at the unprecedented rise in the unofficial dollar exchange rate. The dramatic collapse of the Lebanese lira coincides with a currency crash in neighboring Syria, amid reports that the two financial situations are affecting each other.
Lebanon is in the grips of its worst economic turmoil in decades, and holding talks with the International Monetary Fund towards securing billions in aid to help overcome it. The Lebanese pound remains pegged to the U.S. currency at a rate of 1,507 per dollar, but its value has tumbled on the black market in recent months.
The new nadir comes despite government pledges to halt the pound’s devaluation, and the money changers’ union issuing a maximum daily buying rate of 3,890 and selling rate of 3,940. Lebanese banks have gradually restricted dollar withdrawals since late last year, forcing those in need to buy them at a higher rate on the black market.
In an apparent bid to better oversee the exchange market, the central bank is set to launch a new online platform on June 23 through which changers will be asked to register all operations. Lebanon’s economic crunch has caused poverty to soar to 45 percent of the population and unemployment to rise to 35 percent.
It has also sparked steep inflation, including on imported products. International Crisis Group on Monday warned that Lebanon needed “emergency external assistance to ward off the worst social consequences of the crisis.”
Lebanon, whose debt equivalent to more than 170 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) is one of the world’s largest, defaulted for the first time in March.