‘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

  • 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.”

LIVE: Middle East returns to normal life amid strict COVID-19 measures 

Updated 39 min 22 sec ago

LIVE: Middle East returns to normal life amid strict COVID-19 measures 

DUBAI: Efforts to return life gradually back to some kind of normality in parts of the Middle East continue, as governments get ready to reopen borders and airlines take bookings for flights. 
Tunisia said it will open its sea, land and air borders on June 27 in the hope of rescuing its tourism industry as the coronavirus pandemic comes under control.
Emirates airline also announced that it was taking bookings for flights from Dubai to 12 Arab countries from the start of July. Emirates began operating scheduled flight services to nine destinations around the world from May 21, including London Heathrow, Frankfurt, Paris, Milan, Madrid, Chicago, Toronto, Sydney and Melbourne.
Meanwhile, Lebanon’s commercial complexes, hotels, cafes and museums reopened their doors to customers on Monday after closing for two-and-a-half months. 

June 2, Tuesday (GMT Times)

11:44 - Qatar has reported 1,826 coronavirus cases, raising total to 60,259.

11:28 -  Scientists have found 27 key proteins in the blood of people infected with COVID-19 which they say could act as predictive biomarkers for how ill a patient could become with the disease.

10:24 - Kuwait has confirmed 887 coronavirus cases and the recovery of 50 percent of total infected people.

10:22 - UAE has recorded 596 coronavirus cases and 388 recoveries.

09:43 - New reported cases of coronavirus are steadily declining in Western Europe, but not in Russia and Eastern Europe: World Health Organization spokeswoman said.

09:34 - Formula One has unveiled an eight-race schedule in Europe from July 5 amid the coronavirus pandemic.

09:32 - Iran has reported 64 coronavirus deaths, 3,117 cases, raising total infected people to 157,562 with 7,942 fatalities.

09:20 - The number of coronavirus deaths in Britain is close to 50,000, Reuters reported.

09:07 – Hong Kong will extend restrictions on foreign visitors by another three months and an eight-person limit on group gatherings by two weeks, Health Secretary Sophia Chan said on Tuesday.
Both measures were due to expire later in June.
Travellers to Hong Kong need to undergo a mandatory 14 day quarantine period.

08:45 – 12,739 people died from coronavirus in England and Wales as of May 22, the Office for National Statistics said.

08:16 – Senegal has postponed the restart of schools until further notice after several teachers tested positive for the new coronavirus, the education ministry said late on Monday.

07:51 – Russia has confirmed 8,863 coronavirus cases and 182 deaths in the past 24 hours.

07:02 – A Wuhan doctor who worked with coronavirus whistleblower Li Wenliang died of the virus last week, state media reported Tuesday, becoming China's first COVID-19 fatality in weeks.
07:00 Paris gets some of its pre-lockdown life back as cafes and restaurants partially reopen Tuesday.
06:51 – The global coronavirus death toll has topped 375,000, according to AFP tally.

06:45 – The first Rohingya refugee died from coronavirus in Bangladesh, an official said.

05:59Egypt has sanitized prisons and carried out tests on prisoners across the country after banning visits to help curb the spread of coronavirus, local daily Egypt Today reported.

05:50 – A cluster of nine coronavirus cases raised concerns in Hong Kong over renewed local transmission in a city that has been one of the most successful in keeping the pandemic under control. 

05:18 – The United States on Monday recorded 743 new coronavirus deaths in 24 hours, according to the Johns Hopkins University tracker, bringing its total to 105,099 since the global pandemic began.