Lebanese protesters on Saturday took to the streets in Beirut and other cities in mostly peaceful protests against the government, calling for its resignation as the small country sinks deeper into economic distress.
The protests came after two days of rallies spurred by a dramatic collapse of the local currency against the US dollar.
Those rallies degenerated into violence, including attacks on private banks and shops.
The local currency, pegged to the US dollar for nearly 30 years, has been on a downward trajectory for weeks, losing more than 60 percent of its value.
However, the dramatic collapse last week deepened public despair over the already troubled economy.
Local media said the exchange rate had tumbled to 6,000 Lebanese pounds per US dollar on the black market at one point on Friday, compared to the official peg of 1,507 in place since 1997.
The US dollar and local currency have been used interchangeably for years.
The unparalleled economic and financial crises are proving a major challenge to the government of Lebanese Prime Minister Hassan Diab, who took office earlier this year after his predecessor resigned amid nationwide protests.
Diab has been faced with handling the COVID-19 pandemic, which put the country in lockdown for months, further compounding the crisis.
Diab’s government is supported by the Hezbollah and its allies, but has already been weakened by the economic crisis.
In a speech on Saturday, Diab urged the public to be patient, saying there were a great many political hurdles, including from rivals he said sought to undermine his government.
Diab offered no solutions to the crisis, nor did he name his opponents, but said his government is working to fight corruption and uphold the power of the state.
For the protesters on Saturday, many of them members of political parties, Diab’s government has failed to handle the crisis.
Protesters in Beirut carried a banner that read “There is an alternative.”
In the southern city of Sidon, some directed their wrath at the central bank governor. One protester raised a banner called him the “protector of all thieves in Lebanon.”
In Tripoli, army troops used rubber bullets as they forcefully dispersed dozens of protesters who had blocked the road preventing trucks from moving forward, according to videos posted online.
The protesters allege the trucks were smuggling goods to Syria — a common complaint in Lebanon — but later, Lebanon’s customs authorities said in a statement that the trucks were transporting UN aid destined to Syria.
The clashes in Tripoli left more than 120 people injured, Red Cross and local medical services’ figures showed.
Additional reporting by AFP
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