Tear gas fired at angry protest in crisis-hit Lebanon
Security forces in the crisis-hit Lebanese capital fired tear gas on Wednesday in protest at deteriorating living conditions, as the currency fell to new lows against the dollar.
According to the United Nations, most of the population has fallen into poverty due to the economic crisis in the country, which the World Bank has described as one of the worst in recent times.
Many of the hundreds protesting in Beirut were retired servicemen whose army pensions have lost most of their value, and depositors have been stripped of their savings by cash-strapped banks.
“I used to make about $4,000, now my pension is worth $150,” retired general Khaled Naous, 70, told AFP. “We are not able to ensure basic needs.”
Security forces fired tear gas as some demonstrators tried to block barriers to access the Beirut compound that houses government offices, while other protesters threw stones.
AFP correspondents said a producer and a member of the security forces were wounded.
The Lebanese pound, officially pegged at 15,000 to the dollar, was trading on parallel markets at more than 100,000 against the greenback – a depressing drop from 1,507 before the fall began in late 2019.
Lebanese banks have since lifted withdrawal restrictions, essentially locking depositors out of their life savings and angering Lebanon.
“The people are demanding their most basic rights” and the authorities are “responding with tear gas,” complained former army man Amal Hammoud, 53 years old.
A delegation of retired servicemen later met caretaker prime minister Najib Mikati to discuss their situation.
– ‘Sell my furniture’ –
The currency collapse has been devastating for those on public sector salaries, and has prompted price rises for imported fuel, food and other basic goods.
Supermarkets this month began pricing items in dollars.
Retired teacher Hatem, 73, said he gave up meat and stopped using his car because the costs were too low.
“I am forced to be a vegetarian,” he told AFP in downtown Beirut.
“How can I survive? My pension is $150 and the generator bill is $200.”
Many Lebanese rely on private generators for power as the cash-strapped state produces only a few hours of electricity a day.
Protesters shouted slogans against the political elite, who are widely blamed for the country’s financial collapse.
Marwan Seifeddine, a father of five, told AFP he was barely making ends meet on a pension that is now worth just $50.
“I am unemployed and I am selling my furniture to feed my family,” he said.
Political inaction has been a hallmark of Lebanon’s economic crisis.
Since last year, the country has had no president and only a caretaker government amid the ongoing deadlock between rival blocs in parliament.
In late 2019, Lebanon was hit by unprecedented protests against the political class and deteriorating living conditions.