Lebanese protesters return to the streets as currency hits new low

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BEIRUT (Reuters) – Protesters burned tires and blocked roads in Beirut on Tuesday as the Lebanese currency collapsed beyond a new course.

Market traders said the Lebanese pound was trading at around 15,000 to the dollar, having lost a third of its value in the past two weeks to barely a tenth of what it was worth at the end. of 2019, when Lebanon’s economic and financial crisis erupted.

Banks have blocked access to dollar deposits and poverty is spreading – but restless politicians have yet to launch a bailout that could unlock foreign aid.

“Let them wake up now. Please have mercy on us, we beg you!” said a protester, Hussein Makieh. “Look at us, we are starving. We die. The middle class is gone. There are 3% of the country, thieves, who make a living from it.

Parliamentary committees discussed an emergency loan for the state-owned electricity company after the energy minister warned that without more money the lights would go out across Lebanon by the next day. end of the month.

Lawmakers were only successful in pledging $ 200 million out of the $ 1 billion requested, and that amount must now be approved by Parliament to be accepted.

Acting Prime Minister Hassan Diab said there were efforts to secure credit as fuel for power generation ran out. He also said commodity subsidies were covered until June.

The prospect of the removal of these subsidies has raised fears of rising hunger and disaster warnings from the United Nations.

An official source who declined to be named told Reuters that $ 1.0 to 1.5 billion remained in the pot for subsidies, which cover items such as wheat, fuel and medicine.

The source said foreign exchange reserves now stand at around $ 16 billion, up from a central bank estimate of $ 19.5 billion in August.

Lebanon’s already difficult situation worsened last August when an explosion in the port of Beirut devastated large parts of the city, killing 200 people and prompting Diab’s cabinet to resign.

But his appointed successor, veteran politician Saad al-Hariri, disagrees with President Michel Aoun and has yet to form a new government, which must undertake reforms before it can unblock foreign aid.

“We are absolutely sick of this!” yelled a protester, standing near a barricade of garbage trucks and bonfires blocking a road in the capital.

“We are hungry – we are done!”

(Reporting by Maha El Dahan, Ellen Francis, Issam Abdallah and Mohammed Azakir; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

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