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Protests in Lebanon as local currency hits record low

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Demonstrators blocked key roads across Lebanon on Monday, 8 March, in protest at the country’s political paralysis after the Lebanese pound hit record lows on the black market.

According to France24, Black smoke billowed up from overturned rubbish dumpsters and tyres set ablaze by protesters at various entrances to Beirut from the early morning.

Lebanon is in the grips of its worst economic crisis in decades, compounded by the coronavirus pandemic.

The value of the Lebanese pound has plunged by more than 80 percent, sending pricing soaring, and more than half the population are living below the poverty line.

The value of the local currency has hovered at an all-time high of nearly 11,000 pounds to the greenback on the black market in recent days, even though the official exchange rate remains 1,507.

Lebanese fear the government will soon lift food subsidies, and footage has circulated of fighting over cheaper, subsidised baby milk in a supermarket.

Mohammad Faour, a research fellow in banking and finance at University College Dublin, said the pound’s ongoing free fall was a mere continuation of a clear downward trend in the exchange rate since the very beginning of the crisis, and the concurrent policy inaction”.

Lebanon has been without a fully functioning government since a massive blast in Beirut last summer that killed more than 200 people and ravaged swathes of the capital.

The government stepped down after the disaster, but a deeply divided political class has since failed to agree on a new cabinet to replace it.

Monday’s protests came on the same day as Lebanon entered a new phase in easing up a lockdown aimed at keeping Covid-19 infection rates in check.

A major medical oxygen supplier called on protesters to allow its trucks through to reach hospitals treating patients with serious cases of coronavirus.

Lebanon has recorded almost 400,000 coronavirus cases and more than 5,000 deaths.

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