Protests grip Lebanon as economic uncertainty mounts
Anti-government protests in Lebanon continued on Thursday amid mounting uncertainty as the Lebanese pound dramatically dropped against the US dollar.
Protesters blocked the Dbaye and Jiye highways, according to reports on social media, as well as in Tripoli's al-Nour Square, among other places.
At Lebanon's central bank, protesters demanded the sacking of the institution's governor, Riad Salameh, in a show of disapproval of recent policies.
The Lebanese pound recorded its biggest drop in a single day against the dollar as hundreds of Lebanese – most of them wearing face masks but few keeping a safe distance - crowded outside money transfer offices on Thursday. New Central Bank rules meant that Thursday was the last day for dollars to be dispensed in cash to customers.
The new rules, detailed in a bank circular released this week, require banks and money transfer offices to convert foreign currency transfers and cash withdrawals from foreign currency bank accounts to the local currency, the Lebanese pound, at market rates determined daily by the bank.
The change is meant to ease demand on the dollar but has instead caused panic among the Lebanese, who have relied on a stable national currency that has been pegged to the dollar for nearly 30 years.
Lebanon is facing its worst economic crisis in decades, including unprecedented unemployment levels and a severe liquidity crunch. The crisis has been compounded by a nationwide general lockdown, in place for over a month, to combat the spread of coronavirus.
Lebanese have been taking to the streets since October denouncing the government and banks for their inability to address the liquidity crunch and the general economic malaise, and accusing them of corruption. The coronavirus pandemic has only intensified the economic slump.