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Lebanese are on the streets again as government formation falters and the economy deteriorates

UNITED STATES (OBSERVATORY NEWS)

The demonstrators returned to the streets on Tuesday in a number of Lebanese regions to protest against the failure of forming a government and the intensification of the economic and financial crisis, three months after the launch of unprecedented demonstrations against the political class.

Activists and prominent groups in the demonstrations circulated calls to move in the “anger week”, to organize car rallies, to cut off roads, to participate in schools and universities, and to demonstrate in front of the house of Prime Minister-designate Hassan Diab, who pledged since his appointment a month ago to form a government of specialists.

On Tuesday, the demonstrators cut off major roads in the vicinity of Beirut and a number of areas with burning tires and waste containers, which caused suffocating traffic, according to AFP photographers. Dozens of youths gathered in front of the Central Bank of Beirut and its branches in the regions amid security alert, shouting anti-banking slogans and the severe restrictions imposed on withdrawing funds.

“We will go back on the roads because we can no longer tolerate it any more,” said protester Leila Youssef, 47, in the locality of Furn Al-Shobak, near Beirut, as young men crossed the road to France Press.

“What we earn (money) is not enough for us to buy the needs of the home,” she said, amid the worst economic crisis in the country since the end of the civil war (1975-1990).

Tens of thousands of Lebanese have lost their jobs or part of their salaries during the past three months. Citizens complain of their diminishing purchasing power in exchange for high prices and their inability to pay their financial obligations.

The Lebanese pound is close to losing practically half of its value. While the official exchange rate is still fixed at 1507 pounds against the dollar, the dollar touched the threshold of 2500 pounds in the parallel market. Banks impose tight restrictions on withdrawals in dollars, and their branches are almost daily exposed to problems raised by customers who want to get their money.

An angry demonstrator (75 years) said in the locality of Jal El Dib, north of Beirut, who introduced himself as “a revolution” to France Press, “The leaders did not find what they stole, and in order to humiliate the Lebanese people they formed a mafia with the banks,” asking, “Is it possible that the dollar rises overnight from 1500 to 2500 liras?”.

– “Obstructions.”

Since October 17, tens of thousands of Lebanese have taken to the streets and squares, blocking roads to protest the performance of the political class, which demonstrators accuse of corruption and hold them responsible for the deteriorating economic situation and its inability to rehabilitate facilities and improve basic public services.

These protests led to the resignation of former Prime Minister Saad Hariri, and then Diab was tasked with forming a rescue government on December 19. Since then, the pace of demonstrations has decreased, to be limited to movements towards banks or symbolic gatherings and activities, in what appeared to be a space in front of Diab to form a new government.

The demonstrators are demanding today to accelerate the formation of a government to go out to develop a rescue plan for the economy. Since his assignment, Diab has not been able to form a government that he wants mini-and composed of specialists to meet the demand of the street, while the political forces supporting his mandate are divided over its form, and some are demanding a techno-political government.

Diab spoke Friday of “pressure” he is being subjected to, but he stressed at the same time that “no matter how high I am, you will not change my convictions and will not give in to intimidation”

The President of the Republic, Michel Aoun, acknowledged on Tuesday, in a speech delivered while receiving members of the diplomatic corps in Lebanon, that “some obstacles prevented” the birth of the government, which must have a “specific and rapid program to deal with the pressing economic and financial crisis, and to face the great challenges facing Lebanon and all Region”.

Several political forces announced their intention not to participate in the government, headed by “the Future Movement”, led by caretaker Prime Minister Saad Hariri, who resigned at the end of October due to the anger of the street.

– “Towards a breakdown” –

Protester Saeed Tawk, 60, a retired soldier, expressed his belief that political forces “will not be able to form a government with each party sticking to its ministries.”

He told France Press in Jal El Dib, “They can no longer impose themselves on us Lebanese people. To leave, they have impoverished us and starved us, no water, no electricity, and corruption is rampant. What are we waiting for?”

Political forces hope that the formation of the government will open the door to providing the international community with urgent assistance that Lebanon needs to avoid a greater economic collapse, while a third of its population lives below the poverty line, according to the United Nations, and is witnessing an acute liquidity crisis and an increase in the prices of basic materials.

The current economic crisis is the result of years of slow growth, with the state’s inability to undertake structural reforms, and the decline in the volume of foreign investments, except for the repercussions of the political division that was exacerbated by the conflict in Syria. Public debt rose to about ninety billion dollars, equivalent to more than 150 percent of GDP.

In the city of Tripoli (north), Alaa Khedr (30 years) confirmed to France Press that he refused to form a political “quota government”, explaining that political parties “cannot call their advisers ministers and tell us that these are independent and technocrats.”

He called for speeding up the formation of a rescue government because “the economic situation can no longer wait and the country is sliding toward complete collapse.”

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