Beirut, Lebanon – Angry Lebanese protesters blocked roads across the country with burning tyres, debris and their vehicles, incensed over the local currency’s depreciation by more than 25 percent in just two days.
The demonstrations from northern Akkar and Tripoli to central Zouk, the eastern Bekaa Valley, Beirut and southern Tyre and Nabatieh on Thursday were some of the most widespread in months of upheaval over a calamitous economic and financial crisis.
Protesters set ablaze a branch of the Central Bank, vandalised several private banks and clashed with security forces in several areas. At least 41 people were injured in Tripoli alone, according to the Lebanese Red Cross.
“I’m really pissed off, that’s all. If politicians think they can burn our hearts like this the fire is going to reach them too,” unemployed computer engineer Ali Qassem, 26, after pouring fuel onto smouldering tyres on a main Beirut thoroughfare.
Tens of thousands of Lebanese have lost jobs in the past six months and hundreds of businesses have shuttered as a dollar shortage led the Lebanese pound to slide from 1,500 to $1 last summer – where it was pegged for 23 years – to roughly 4,000 for each US dollar last month.
But the slide turned into a freefall between Wednesday and Thursday when the pound plummeted to roughly 5,000 to $1 on black markets, which have become a main source of hard currency. There was widespread speculation the rate hit 6,000 or even 7,000 pounds to the dollar, though most markets stopped trading.