Power cuts and plummeting exchange rates hit Lebanon

Blackouts last over 16 hours a day. (AP)
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Updated 07 July 2020

Power cuts and plummeting exchange rates hit Lebanon

  • The Lebanese pound has lost 80 percent of its value this year
  • Unemployment of more than 30%

BEIRUT: Power cuts, plummeting exchange rates and soaring unemployment have hit Lebanon, even as the country’s president on Monday urged people to “stick to hope” and to not “surrender to obstacles and difficulties.”

President Michel Aoun made the remarks after Sunday night’s Baalbek International Festival - “The Sound of Resilience” - that was held without an audience and broadcast live on local TV channels in addition to Arab and international outlets. It was also live-streamed on the festival’s social media accounts and other digital platforms.

Aoun said that the musical evening was “the most expressive manifestation of the spirit of challenge and confrontation that drives the will of the Lebanese in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, on the one hand, and the economic and the unprecedented financial crisis in the history of our homeland.”

However the respite from the turbulence was brief and the Lebanese awoke to more grim news. There was a rise in the exchange rate of the dollar on the black market, with the purchase price ranging between LBP8,900 and LBP9,000 for $1. The selling price ranged between LBP9,000 and LBP9,200. The exchange rate of the dollar had fallen to LBP7,000 at the weekend.

The Lebanese pound has lost 80 percent of its value this year. Food prices have soared, businesses have closed, salaries and savings are vanishing and unemployment has surged.

It is unclear if the Central Bank’s decision - to secure the necessary amounts in foreign currencies to meet the needs of importers and manufacturers of basic and primary materials used in the food industry based on an exchange rate of LBP3,900 - will succeed in alleviating the crisis.

The Lebanese circulated a video of a person lying on a sidewalk in Baalbek with a sign that read: “I am an educator, I am educated, I am begging to live.”

The minister of labor, Lamia Yammine, estimated the country’s unemployment rate to be more than 30 percent after hundreds of institutions closed down and thousands of employees were dismissed.

Lebanon is also grappling with power cuts of over 16 hours a day. Rafic Hariri International Hospital said it was switching off some air conditioners and postponing some operations due to the power cuts and the lack of diesel.

The Ogero communications company said that its services “may witness interruptions” in some areas if the owners of private generators stopped providing some generators and communication rooms with energy.

This crisis, and others, have led people back onto the streets to protest and block roads in Beirut.

Taxi drivers protested in front of the Ministry of Interior in the capital’s Sanayeh area demanding the “amendment of the passenger fare rate.” Truck drivers working for cement companies blocked a road in central Beirut, opposite the Ministry of Environment, to request permission to invest in quarries. Teachers who were dismissed from private schools held a sit-in in front of the Ministry of Education and Higher Education, while the Association of Lebanese Industrialists warned that the sector was “bleeding.”

“The problems are not only related to providing liquidity to import raw materials, but also other problems that have imposed themselves strongly recently," Fady Gemayel, the association’s president, told Arab News. "These problems include industrialists having to resort to the parallel market to obtain the dollar to finance their purchases from abroad, especially raw materials, in light of the rapid rise in the exchange rate of the dollar. And finally the power cuts, the record rise in rationing hours, and the scarcity of diesel and fuel. This is a dangerous matter that must be addressed quickly before it is too late.”

Security forces continue to arrest activists for criticizing authorities on social media.

On Monday the activist Pierre Hashash was arrested and two of those who gathered to protest his detention were beaten.

“A group of security and military agencies summoned dozens of people and interrogated them, some of them repetitively, regarding comments they posted on social media criticizing the authorities,” said Lynn Maalouf, Amnesty International’s Middle East research director. “Lebanon must respect, under international law, the right to freedom of expression and its protection even if this expression carries a risk of being shocking, offensive, or annoying.”
 


Yemen’s attorney general orders probe into Aden ammonium nitrate reports

Updated 1 min 8 sec ago

Yemen’s attorney general orders probe into Aden ammonium nitrate reports

  • On Friday, Yemeni lawmakers joined voices that demanded an immediate investigation into allegations of stranded containers of ammonium nitrate

AL-MUKALLA: Yemen’s attorney general on Friday ordered prosecutors in the southern port city of Aden to launch a quick probe into reports about tons of ammonium nitrate abandoned in the city’s seaport for several years.

In a letter addressed to Aden province’s chief appeal prosecutor, Ali Ahmed Al-Awash ordered an investigation to determine the veracity of media reports that 130 containers of ammonium nitrate, the same explosive materials that devastated Beirut last week, had been abandoned in the seaport for some time.

Yemeni journalist Fatehi Ben Lazerq, the editor of the Aden Al-Ghad news site and newspaper, published a story on Friday saying that roughly 4,900 tons of ammonium nitrate stored in 130 containers had been gathering dust at the port for the last three years.

The story prompted Yemen Gulf of Aden Ports Corporation, a government body that runs Aden seaport, to strongly deny storing ammonium nitrate at the site, saying the reporter was referring to old seized shipments of 140 containers of the organic compound urea, which, like ammonium nitrate, is used as an agricultural fertilizer.

The corporation claimed the material was not “explosive or radioactive”. Urea nitrate, however, has been used in making bombs across the world, including those detonated in the 1993 World Trade Center bombings.

Ben Lazerq later fleshed out the story by publishing a letter from Brig. Abdul Salam Al-Ameri, the chief of Aden Free Zone police, from April 12, 2012 and addressed to the Saudi-led coalition leadership, complaining that the confiscated containers were due to expire and might “cause great harm” to the seaport infrastructures and workers.

“The ball is in their court now,” Ben Lazerq told Arab News, referring to the government officials, saying that he published the story to alert the public about the hazardous materials.

On Friday, Yemeni lawmakers joined voices that demanded an immediate investigation into allegations of stranded containers of ammonium nitrate. Ali Hussein Ashal, a member of the Parliament of Yemen, sent a letter to the government requesting clarifications about the presence of 130 40-foot containers of fertilizer abandoned in Aden seaport, and the reasons for importing the materials.

Mohammed Alawi Amzrabeh, the chairman of Yemen Gulf of Aden Ports Corporation, told Arab News they kept the containers of “safe” agricultural fertilizers in the port after the Saudi-led coalition rejected the shipment’s entry into the country. Despite the corporation’s assurance that the materials in question do not pose a risk, several government officials told Arab News that the Saudi-led coalition and the internationally recognized government had classified urea fertilizer as an explosive material that could be used by the Iran-backed Houthis for military purposes, banning Yemeni seaports from importing it without prior permission.

In February, Arab News reported that the Yemeni coast guard seized a ship carrying 20 tons of urea fertilizer of the country’s west coast. State media outlets have also reported multiple confiscations of urea shipments on land in Yemen, destined for the Houthi-controlled territories in the north of the country.