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Protests in Lebanese capital over deteriorating economy

Living conditions in Lebanon are becoming increasingly difficult [AFP]

Date of publication: 29 September, 2019

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Hundreds took to the streets in Lebanon's capital to protest difficult living conditions and a deteriorating economy.
Hundreds of people protested in Lebanon's capital on Sunday over increasingly difficult living conditions, amid fears of a dollar shortage and possible price hikes.

A skirmish broke out as protesters tried to break through security barriers in front of the cabinet office and anti-riot forces pushed them back with shields and batons, an AFP photographer said.

In the early afternoon, demonstrators cut off several Beirut thoroughfares, some with burning tyres billowing black smoke.

Around 500 people, some carrying Lebanese flags, had gathered earlier in central Beirut's Martyr Square to march to the seats of government and parliament.

"Revolution, revolution," cried some of the protesters.

"Government, parliament... Thieves, thieves!"

Others chanted a popular refrain of the 2011 Arab Spring protests across the region: "The people want the fall of the regime".

"We toil day and night just to be able to live," said a 52-year-old Lebanese woman outside parliament, asking to remain anonymous.

"They've starved us, stolen from us. Enough is enough," she told AFP, trembling with rage.

Parliament in July passed an austerity budget aimed at rescuing an economy crumbling under massive debt and unlocking billions of dollars in international aid.

This week, fears of a dollar shortage have sparked anxiety over a possible devaluation of the Lebanese pound and price hikes.

Lebanese media reported that banks and money exchange houses were rationing their sales of dollars, which are used alongside the pound in daily transactions.

The head of the central bank has denied that the country is facing a currency reserve crisis, but it has become very difficult to withdraw dollars from ATMs in Beirut.

Economic growth in Lebanon has plummeted in the wake of repeated political deadlocks in recent years, compounded by eight years of war in neighbouring Syria.

Lebanon's public debt stands at around $86 billion - more than 150 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) - according to the finance ministry.

Eighty percent of that figure is owed to Lebanon's central bank and local banks.

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