Demonstrators in Beirut, January 16, 2020. - Bilal Hussein / AP / SIPA
The situation is still very tense for the Lebanese government, even if it is losing weight. In a country shaken by an unprecedented protest movement against the political class accused of corruption and incompetence, the vast majority of protesters arrested in the past 48 hours were released on Thursday. Tuesday and Wednesday, Beirut was the scene of nocturnal violence marked by acts of vandalism against several banks.
The Central Bank and the Minister of the Interior targeted
But this gesture does not seem to calm the opponents. In the evening, a few hundred people took to the streets again, gathering in front of the Parliament building in and around central Beirut. Lebanese also demonstrated in front of the headquarters of the Central Bank of Lebanon and the Ministry of the Interior in the Lebanese capital. Protesters booed resigning Interior Minister Raya al-Hassan and denounced the delay in forming a government of technocrats, demanded by the street, after the resignation of Prime Minister Saad Hariri in late October.
In the Hamra district, protesters vandalized three banks late in the evening, smashing shop windows and ripping ATMs. The national information agency (ANI) even reported a Molotov cocktail launched against one of the banks. The Lebanese are furious since the entry into force in recent weeks of draconian restrictions on withdrawals, imposed by banks which are accused by protesters of complicity with the power.
Amnesty International denounces the crackdown
"All those arrested have been released with the exception of seven foreigners who will be brought before the competent authorities," said the committee of lawyers for the defense of the demonstrators, which specifies that the foreigners are six Syrians and one Egyptian. On Tuesday, 59 people suspected of vandalism and assaults had been arrested, according to the police. "The security forces brutally beat protesters (...) verbally and physically ill-treating them," said Amnesty International. "The actions of a handful of protesters who vandalized banks or threw stones never justify such excessive use of force." On Wednesday evening, the Lebanese Red Cross said it had treated 84 wounded in the two camps after clashes between the police and demonstrators.
Public debt of more than 150% of GDP
On Thursday, a meeting was held between Saad Hariri, the governor of the Central Bank and the outgoing finance minister to discuss the economic crisis and the upcoming debt maturities. Lebanon is crumbling under a public debt of around 90 billion dollars, or more than 150% of the GDP. In addition, the national currency lost its value on the parallel market: 2,500 pounds for one dollar against an official rate of 1,507 pounds / dollar.
After Saad Hariri's resignation, Hassan Diab was appointed in December to form a new government, but negotiations dragged on, much to the dismay of the protest movement launched on October 17. A new ministerial team could, however, see the light of day Friday, according to local media.
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