Lebanese resume protests, call for end to vacuum

Updated January 15, 2020

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SIDON: Lebanese anti-government protesters demonstrate at the entrance of an electricity company in this southern city on Tuesday.—AFP
SIDON: Lebanese anti-government protesters demonstrate at the entrance of an electricity company in this southern city on Tuesday.—AFP

BEIRUT: Protesters resumed blocking major highways on Tuesday in what they said would be a “week of wrath” demanding an end to Lebanon’s months-long political vacuum.

Although protests had declined in size in recent weeks, demonstrations have been ongoing since October, increasingly targeting banks and state institutions blamed for driving the country towards collapse.

The unprecedented cross-sectarian movement since October 17 has been fuelled by a crippling economic crisis, the worst since Lebanon’s 1975-1990 civil war.

Debt-burdened Lebanon has been without a government since Saad Hariri resigned as prime minister on October 29, as political parties fail to agree on the makeup of a new team.

“Rebel, Beirut,” dozens of protesters chanted as they marched to the sound of drums towards the home of premier designate Hassan Diab, who has struggled to form a cabinet since he was named on Dec 19.

“I want a government that can resolve the economic crisis as quickly as possible,” said Nour, a 31-year-old marcher. As a liquidity crisis grows and the cost of living rises, protesters have returned to the streets to urge politicians to swiftly form a cabinet of experts to respond to their demands.

On Tuesday morning, dozens of protesters blocked key highways in and around Beirut with overturned rubbish bins and burning tyres. Laila Youssef, 47, said she was taking part to call on politicians to wake up. “We’ve gone back to closing down roads because we can’t stand it anymore,” the mother of three said. “What we earn today is not enough to buy the basics for home.”

Many Lebanese have lost their jobs or seen their salaries reduced by half in recent months.

Even as banks cap withdrawals, the value of the Lebanese pound to the US dollar has fallen by almost half on the parallel exchange market.

Published in Dawn, January 15th, 2020