Fuel sector strike shuts Lebanese gas stations as cash dollars run dry

1 / 3
A gas station closes during a protest agains tight supply of dollars in Beirut, Lebanon September 18, 2019. (Reuters)
2 / 3
A gas station closes during a protest agains tight supply of dollars in Beirut, Lebanon September 18, 2019. (Reuters)
3 / 3
A gas station closes during a protest agains tight supply of dollars in Beirut, Lebanon September 18, 2019. (Reuters)
Updated 19 September 2019

Fuel sector strike shuts Lebanese gas stations as cash dollars run dry

  • Gas station owners said the walkout was to highlight their “material losses resulting from the dollar exchange rate”
  • On some forecourts, station owners held up pump hoses in protest over losses resulting from a national shortage of cash dollars

BEIRUT: Motorists in Lebanon on Wednesday found the majority of gas stations closed due to a one-day strike by fuel sector companies and workers.
On some forecourts, station owners held up pump hoses in protest over losses resulting from a national shortage of cash dollars.
Fuel in Lebanon is normally purchased from import companies and suppliers in US dollars and sold in Lebanese pounds. But the country’s banks have been holding back from handing out large sums of the currency in hard cash.
The warning strike involved import, distribution and tanker companies as well as gas stations selling petroleum products, and according to the National News Agency (NNA) received 97 percent support.
Gas station owners said the walkout was to highlight their “material losses resulting from the dollar exchange rate.”
In the absence of dollars in large quantities in Lebanese banks, many fuel dealers have had to turn to exchange houses which sell dollars at rates of up to 1,550 Lebanese pounds, above the official exchange rate of 1,500 Lebanese pounds.
Economist Jassem Ajaka blamed the situation on international sanctions imposed on Hezbollah. He told Arab News: “The problem is not a dollar shortage in Lebanon, but the fact that it is being used as cash money.”
Lebanese Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri said on Wednesday that “the siege and economic sanctions imposed on Lebanon do not affect certain persons or category, nor do they affect the resistance, as some believe, but they impact all the Lebanese people.”
Ajaka added: “In France, for instance, when the amount exceeds $500 (SR1,875), they request receiving it by bank transfer or an ATM card. In Lebanon, there is no restraint, and people prefer to use cash money. As a result of the increased sanctions, a certain development forced banks to abstain from giving large amounts of cash money.
“Lebanon has a surplus of the hard currency, and the Central Bank declared a week ago that it has deposits of $1.4 billion. Thus, there is no problem in the dollar matter. People should get accustomed to bank transfers.”
Lebanese MP Bilal Abdallah objected to the strike, arguing on social media that it was “unacceptable that Lebanese citizens are victims of the dollar game between oil companies, gas stations and banks.”
He tweeted: “With whom and against whom is the strike? Your companies and stations reap profits from citizens, whom you force to wait and whom you give anxiety. This is shameful. Where is the State and the bodies concerned with the protection of peoples’ rights?”


‘No way we can rebuild’: Lebanese count huge losses after Beirut blast

Updated 07 August 2020

‘No way we can rebuild’: Lebanese count huge losses after Beirut blast

  • The search for those missing since Tuesday’s blast intensified overnight, as rescuers sifted rubble in a frantic race to find anyone still alive after the explosion
  • The government has promised a full investigation and put several port employees under house arrest

BEIRUT: Beirut residents began trying to rebuild their shattered lives on Friday after the biggest blast in the Lebanese capital’s history tore into the city, killing at least 154 and leaving the heavily indebted nation with another huge reconstruction bill.
The search for those missing since Tuesday’s blast intensified overnight, as rescuers sifted rubble in a frantic race to find anyone still alive after the explosion smashed a swathe of the city and sent shockwaves around the region.
Security forces fired teargas at a furious crowd late on Thursday, as anger boiled over at the government and a political elite, who have presided over a nation that was facing economic collapse even before the deadly port blast injured 5,000 people.
The small crowd, some hurling stones, marked a return to the kind of protests that had become a feature of life in Beirut, as Lebanese watched their savings evaporate and currency disintegrate, while government decision-making floundered.
“There is no way we can rebuild this house. Where is the state?” Tony Abdou, an unemployed 60-year-old, sitting in the family home in Gemmayze, a district that lies a few hundred meters from the port warehouses where highly explosive material was stored for years, a ticking time bomb next to a densely populated area.
As Abdou spoke, a domestic water boiler fell through the ceiling of his cracked home, while volunteers from the neighborhood turned out on the street to sweep up debris.
“Do we actually have a government here?” said taxi driver Nassim Abiaad, 66, whose cab was crushed by falling building wreckage just as he was about to get into the vehicle.
“There is no way to make money anymore,” he said.
The government has promised a full investigation and put several port employees under house arrest. State news agency NNA said 16 people were taken into custody. But for many Lebanese, the explosion was symptomatic of the years of neglect by the authorities while state corruption thrived.
Shockwaves
Officials have said the blast, whose seismic impact was recorded hundreds of miles (kilometers) away, might have caused losses amounting to $15 billion — a bill the country cannot pay when it has already defaulted on its mountain of national debt, exceeding 150% of economic output, and talks about a lifeline from the International Monetary Fund have stalled.
Hospitals, many heavily damaged as shockwaves ripped out windows and pulled down ceilings, have been overwhelmed by the number of casualties. Many were struggling to find enough foreign exchange to buy supplies before the explosion.
In the port area, rescue teams set up arc lights to work through the night in a dash to find those still missing, as families waited tensely, slowly losing hope of ever seeing loved ones again. Some victims were hurled into the sea because of the explosive force.
The weeping mother of one of the missing called a prime time TV program on Thursday night to plead with the authorities to find her son, Joe. He was found — dead — hours later.
Lebanese Red Cross Secretary General George Kettaneh told local radio VDL that three more bodies had been found in the search, while the health minister said on Friday the death toll had climbed to 154. Dozens are still unaccounted for.
Charbel Abreeni, who trained port employees, showed Reuters pictures on his phone of killed colleagues. He was sitting in a church where the head from the statue of the Virgin Mary had been blown off.
“I know 30 port employees who died, two of them are my close friends and a third is missing,” said the 62-year-old, whose home was wrecked in the blast. His shin was bandaged.
“I have nowhere to go except my wife’s family,” he said. “How can you survive here, the economy is zero?“
Offers of immediate medical and food aid have poured in from Arab states, Western nations and beyond. But none, so far, address the bigger challenges facing a bankrupt nation.
French President Emmanuel Macron came to the city on Thursday with a cargo from France. He promised to explain some “home truths” to the government, telling them they needed to root out corruption and deliver economic reforms.
He was greeted on the street by many Lebanese who asked for help in ensuring “regime” change, so a new set of politicians could rebuild Beirut and set the nation on a new course.
Beirut still bore scars from heavy shelling in the 1975-1990 civil war before the blast. After the explosion, chunks of the city once again look like a war zone.