Lebanese protesters vent anger at central bank, clash with security forces

An army armored personnel carrier removes a garbage container set on fire by anti-government protesters in Beirut, Lebanon, Monday, Oct. 28, 2019. (AP)
Updated 03 November 2019

Lebanese protesters vent anger at central bank, clash with security forces

  • Groups of activists marched on the central bank and branches across Lebanon calling for the resignation of its governor

BEIRUT: Protests in Lebanon entered their 12th day as security forces clashed with demonstrators blocking main roads in Beirut and routes connecting the capital to other regions.

There were flashpoints across the city as authorities attempted to reopen key highways shut off by protesters in a bid to maintain pressure for political change.

Groups of activists marched on the central bank and branches across Lebanon calling for the resignation of its governor, Riad Salameh, who they hold responsible for the country’s financial woes.

The Lebanese banking association decided on Monday to stick with its decision to keep banks shut on Tuesday, marking the longest period of bank closures in the country’s financial history.

However, following an exceptional meeting, the association stressed its commitment to “pay out salaries for public sector workers, including security forces,” adding that the central bank was “working to secure necessary liquidity for this purpose.”

A group of lawyers, sympathetic to the protesters, staged a sit-in outside the Justice Palace in Beirut. MPs from the parliamentary bloc loyal to President Michel Aoun announced lifting bank secrecy on their accounts.  

Protesters have accused head of bloc and foreign minister, Gebran Bassil, of corruption and are demanding he stand down along with others.

Member of the Labanese Parliament, Eddy Maalouf, said: “The decision to lift bank secrecy will include ministers and MPs and the two female deputies of the head of the Free Patriotic Movement, by signing documents at the notary’s office, to lift bank secrecy on their accounts in Lebanon and abroad.

“This step marks the beginning of initiatives by the Free Patriotic Movement to reach the adoption of anti-corruption laws, to ensure the accountability of corrupt officials and unveil the truth before the people, instead of the prevailing wave of disinformation, slander and lies.”

In an attempt by the authority to prove its seriousness in the implementation of the reform package it had announced earlier, Lebanon’s Prime Minister Saad Hariri on Monday presided over a meeting of the ministerial council to study the draft general amnesty law.

Following a meeting with Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, a delegation from the Aounist parliamentary bloc reiterated “the need to adopt legislative proposals it had previously presented, related to anti-corruption, accountability and recovery of looted wealth.”  

The bloc’s secretary-general, MP Ibrahim Kanaan, said that Berri would “activate the work and ask the parliamentary committees to start studying all proposals and the 2020 draft budget, without any delay.”

Afifa Al-Sayed, veteran activist from the civil society, told Arab News: “The young men and women in the streets are tired, especially as they have not received any prompt response to their demands and that their movement is not organized.

“Security bodies on Monday opened the roads by force, in Sidon in particular. Protesters in the streets are starting to feel that the situation is cooling down. If we give up and leave the streets, they will work on further breaking us.

“This is the revolution and the cause of the youth, and they cannot be told what to do. They are even refusing to be told what to do next. If things stay this way, they might lead to chaos and this might be advantageous since it will make the authority feel uncertain,” she added.

“Meanwhile, some groups are building strategies and ideas for the revolution and are trying to contact other groups protesting on the ground to suggest names that can be trusted to speak in their names. But until then, it is the revolution of the youth, and they decide what they want.”




Lebanese anti-government protesters practice yoga on a blocked avenue in the center of the capital Beirut. (AFP)

Another activist, Randa Al-Yaseer, told Arab News: “More meetings are being organized to find new ways to protest, especially that people are starting to feel tired, therefore, protests in the streets might be transformed to other activities. 

“If I tell protesters something they do not like, they ask me to leave. They say even their parents cannot tell them what do. Some groups are communicating on social media outlets and refuse to reveal their identities. That is their right, since there are fears of getting arrested by the authority and security bodies, which can mean the end of the protests. 

“Even the protest squares are being attacked. Some people come at night and steal the chairs and tables we bought with our own money. Some women have been offering water bottles and sandwiches to people in the streets, to discover later that some people were selling the bottles and sandwiches for one dollar,” added Al-Yaseer.

“We cannot say that the movement is failing. People are surprising us. They are showing motivation, but only in the afternoon and at night.”


Syrian pound plummets as new US sanctions loom

Updated 06 June 2020

Syrian pound plummets as new US sanctions loom

  • Syria is in the thick of an economic crisis compounded by a coronavirus lockdown and a dollar liquidity crunch in neighboring Lebanon
  • The UN food agency said any further depreciation risked increasing the cost of imported basic food items

BEIRUT: Syria’s pound hit record lows on the black market Saturday trading at over 2,300 to the dollar, less than a third of its official value, traders said, ahead of new US sanctions.
Three traders in Damascus told AFP by phone that the dollar bought more than 2,300 Syrian pounds for the first time, though the official exchange rate remained fixed at around 700 pounds to the greenback.
After nine years of war, Syria is in the thick of an economic crisis compounded by a coronavirus lockdown and a dollar liquidity crunch in neighboring Lebanon.
Last month, the central bank warned it would clamp down on currency “manipulators.”
Analysts said concerns over the June 17 implementation of the US Caesar Act, which aims to sanction foreign persons who assist the Syrian government or help in post-war reconstruction, also contributed to the de fact devaluation.
Zaki Mehchy, a senior consulting fellow at Chatham House, said foreign companies — including from regime ally Russia — were already opting not to take any risks.
With money transactions requiring two to three weeks to implement, “today’s transactions will be paid after June 17,” he said.
Heiko Wimmen, Syria project director at the conflict tracker Crisis Group, said that with the act coming into force, “doing business with Syria will become even more difficult and risky.”
Both analysts said the fall from grace of top business tycoon Rami Makhlouf despite being a cousin of the president was also affecting confidence.
“The Makhlouf saga is spooking the rich,” Wimmen said.
After the Damascus government froze assets of the head of the country’s largest mobile phone operator and slapped a travel ban on him, the wealthy feel “nobody is safe,” he said.
They are thinking “you better get your assets and perhaps yourself out preparing for further shakedowns,” he said.
Mehchy said the impact of the pound’s decline and ensuing price hikes on Syrians would be “catastrophic.”
Most of Syria’s population lives in poverty, according to the United Nations, and food prices have doubled over the past year.
The UN food agency’s Jessica Lawson said any further depreciation risked increasing the cost of imported basic food items such as rice, pasta and lentils.
“These price increases risk pushing even more people into hunger, poverty and food insecurity as Syrians’ purchasing power continues to erode,” the World Food Programme spokeswoman said.
“Families may be forced to cut the quality and quantity of food they buy.”