Protests erupt across Lebanon as currency tumbles to new low

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Protesters blocked roads across Lebanon Thursday after the local currency tumbled to a new low, forcing the country’s prime minister to call for an emergency cabinet meeting.

Branches of the country’s central bank in different parts of the country were set on fire and vandalized and protesters told local TV stations that they were “hungry.”

Some protesters in Downtown Beirut chanted their opposition to sectarianism.

Prime Minister Hassan Diab’s office released a statement announcing that he had canceled all of his appointments scheduled for Friday and that an emergency cabinet session would be held “devoted to discussing monetary issues.”

The Lebanese pound, which has been pegged at 1,507.5 pounds to the US dollar since 1997, changed hands at more than 6,000 to the dollar at parallel markets on Thursday, according to three different residents that spoke to Al Arabiya English.

One individual who lives in the Bekaa Valley said that an exchange dealer was buying US dollars at 7,000 pounds.

Just Wednesday, exchange dealers were buying dollars at 4,600, Reuters reported.

However, the official peg has not been changed since nationwide anti-government protests started last October.

Years of corruption and sectarianism have devastated the small country, in addition to the neighboring Syrian war.

Hani Bohsali, president of the Syndicate of Importers of Foodstuffs, Consumer Products and Drinks, told Reuters that “for the last 10 days we have been able to find much less than we need, the supply is really scarce.”

But Nasser Saidi, a former economy minister, said the pound’s decline had accelerated because of increased demand for dollars in neighboring Syria, where the local currency has also hit record lows as new US sanctions are set to come into effect.

“There is the beginning of panic in Syria over the availability of dollars. This has transferred itself into increased demand in the Beirut market,” he said. - With Reuters

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