‘Revolution of the hungry’: New anger in Lebanon over soaring price of food

‘Revolution of the hungry’: New anger in Lebanon over soaring price of food
A Lebanese soldier tries to open a highway blocked by burning tires in Zouk, north of Beirut Monday. (Reuters)
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Updated 28 April 2020

‘Revolution of the hungry’: New anger in Lebanon over soaring price of food

‘Revolution of the hungry’: New anger in Lebanon over soaring price of food
  • Illegal money changers defy central bank, set exchange rate of 4,500 pounds to US dollar

BEIRUT: Lebanon on Monday erupted in what protesters called “the revolution of the hungry people” amid soaring food prices caused by a plunging exchange rate of the Lebanese pound against the US dollar.

Demonstrators defied the coronavirus lockdowns and burned tires, set up roadblocks and chanted slogans against rampant inflation.

Six people were injured in protests in Zalqa, northeast of Beirut, protesters set tires ablaze on highways in Dbaiyeh north of the capital and Damour to the south, and demonstrators also mobilized in the northern city of Tripoli.

After confrontations between demonstrators and security forces, the Lebanese Army said it respected people’s right to protest, but urged them to refrain from blocking roads and damaging property.

“Bank employees were assaulted in several branches across the country by rioters trying to convince the people that their actions aim to punish the banks for impoverishing the country and its people,” the Federation of Syndicates of Bank Employees said.

Trouble had been expected on Monday after money changers closed their offices and went on strike on Friday because of volatility in the currency markets. A circular issued late on Sunday by central bank governor Riad Salameh, setting an exchange rate of 3,200 Lebanese pounds to the dollar, failed to control the market.

Separately, Lebanese banks set an exchange rate of 3,000 pounds per dollar for withdrawals from dollar accounts, and the central bank set a rate of 3,800 to be applied at money transfer offices, which are used by many Lebanese abroad to send money to relatives at home.

“The rise in the exchange rate during the past few days is unjustified,” Salameh said in his circular. “The exchange operations should be organized to protect the stability of the Lebanese pound and maintain the social security and purchasing power of Lebanese citizens, particularly those with a low income.”

Nevertheless, illegal money-changers continued to manipulate the black market on Monday. Some sold the dollar for 4,400 pounds, and others only bought dollars while refusing to sell.

Security forces closed down exchange offices violating the official rate and detained dozens of unlicensed money-changers in Sidon, Nabatiyeh, Chtoura, Anjar and Bar Elias.

Lebanon’s financial and banking crisis is widely considered to be the biggest risk to its stability since the 1975-90 civil war, undermining faith in the economy and the dollar peg.

The exchange rate volatility has also led to soaring food prices of in supermarkets. A check by Arab News found beef fetching 32,000 pounds a kilo, and lamb 50,000; 2kg of powdered milk cost 42,000 pounds, a kilo of tomatoes 5,000, a kilo of garlic 10,000, and a box of eggs 14,000.

Lebanese President Michel Aoun chaired a ministerial and administrative attended by Prime Minister Hassan Diab focused on fighting corruption.

“Political corruption should also be addressed given its gravity. We should not only focus on administrative corruption,” Aoun said. 

“Prosecuting senior political officials will prove that accountability is not limited to those in the lower ranks of the public sector.”

Diab said: “Corruption in Lebanon is protected by politics, politicians, confessions and religious leaders. It has become necessary to address this issue and hold corrupt people accountable.”


UK slams ‘illegal’ Israeli settlement plans 

The UK’s minister for the Middle East and North Africa on Monday slammed the Israeli government’s plans to expand settlements in the West Bank. (Reuters/File Photo)
The UK’s minister for the Middle East and North Africa on Monday slammed the Israeli government’s plans to expand settlements in the West Bank. (Reuters/File Photo)
Updated 18 January 2021

UK slams ‘illegal’ Israeli settlement plans 

The UK’s minister for the Middle East and North Africa on Monday slammed the Israeli government’s plans to expand settlements in the West Bank. (Reuters/File Photo)
  • Britain ‘seriously concerned’ by decision to approve 780 new units in West Bank

LONDON: The UK’s minister for the Middle East and North Africa on Monday slammed the Israeli government’s plans to expand settlements in the West Bank.

In a statement issued by the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO), James Cleverly said the UK is “seriously concerned by Israel’s decision to approve 780 new settlement units in the West Bank. We urge Israel not to proceed with their construction.” 

He added: “Settlements are illegal under international law and risk undermining the physical viability of the two state solution.”

The new plans were announced on Monday by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. On Sunday, a government committee moved to ratify the construction of some 365 homes while giving preliminary approval for another 415, according to Israeli anti-settlement campaign group Peace Now.

An FCDO spokesman called for the construction of settlements “in East Jerusalem and elsewhere in the West Bank to cease immediately.”

In November, Cleverly criticized Israel’s decision to start proceedings for the construction of 1,257 settlement homes in Givat HaMatos.