BEIRUT: Lebanon’s licensed money changers returned to work on Wednesday after a month-long strike, saying they will adhere to price ceilings for the buying and selling of US dollars.
Money dealers agreed to buy US dollars for a minimum of 3,950 Lebanese pounds and sell at a top rate of 4,000 pounds.
The pound has fallen by about 60 percent from the official exchange rate of 1,507.5 pounds since October, with US dollars becoming increasingly scarce.
In late April, Lebanon’s central bank said foreign currency dealers could not sell US dollars for more than 3,200 pounds.
Financial authorities also arrested several money dealers, including Mahmoud Murad, head of the Syndicate of Money Changers, and his deputy, Elias Sorour, on charges of exchange rate manipulation.
Ninety foreign currency dealers closed by authorities for breaking exchange rate rules were allowed to reopen on Wednesday.
Murad, who was released several days ago, told Arab News that “the first working day after the strike was cautious and the market was confused.”
He said people were reluctant to sell or buy US dollars because of confusion over an exchange rate mechanism agreed by Prime Minister Hassan Diab and Bank of Lebanon chief Riad Salameh.
The mechanism requires compliance with a central bank circular, which fixes the exchange rate at 3,200 Lebanese pounds, with a gradual decline in value in coming days.
Murad said: “Money changers have adhered to the specified price ceiling so far, and we hope that things will stabilize and the dollar will return to its official price of 1,507 Lebanese pounds, especially since the country needs cash stability and there is anger on the streets.”
However, activists warned of further protests and unrest, saying the government had failed to consider people’s needs in reform plans outlined during talks with the International Monetary Fund on Wednesday.
Jad Lezeik, of the Li Haqqi (For my rights) movement, told Arab News: “We are preparing to take to the streets in Beirut on Saturday to complete the goals of our Oct. 17, 2019, uprising.
“People should be able to provide food, housing and education for their children. The government has failed to address these needs. Its reform plan is hostile to the people,” he said.
Lebanese people “are afraid of the unknown future that awaits them,” Lezeik said.
Activist groups have returned to the streets in recent days, with some staging sit-ins outside the homes of officials and ministers.
With the next phase of the country’s mobilization to be decided on Thursday, Lebanon’s leaders, including President Michel Aoun and Prime Minister Diab, told UN Security Council envoys that the government will agree to extend the UNIFIL forces’ mandate “without modifying their numbers and tasks.”
Aoun asked UNIFIL to strengthen its partnership with the Lebanese army, saying that “limited incidents that occurred between groups of UNIFIL and some citizens in southern villages do not reflect any negative climate against UNIFIL forces.”
US envoy to Lebanon Dorothy Chia told the meeting that UNIFIL soldiers are present to implement Resolution 1701 in full.
“I do not think we can say that the full implementation of this decision has taken place. So we need to consider increasing the effectiveness of UNIFIL to its maximum extent,” she said.