Protesters storm the Lebanese ministry as the crisis escalates

Beirut (AFP) – A small group of protesters stormed a ministry building in Beirut early Friday and removed…

Beirut (AFP) – A small group of protesters stormed a ministry building in Beirut early Friday and removed the president’s portrait from one of his main rooms, as the Lebanese pound hit a new low amid a worsening economic and political impasse.

The protesters, who entered the Ministry of Social Affairs, said that the situation in Lebanon, stricken by a crisis, has become intolerable as a result of the rapid economic collapse and the continuous collapse of the pound, which reached $25,100. The previous record was 25,000.

Prices have skyrocketed in recent weeks as the government lifted subsidies on fuel and some medicines, leaving them out of reach for many in Lebanon. About three-quarters of the population of 6 million people, including one million Syrian refugees, now live in poverty. The minimum monthly wage is now around $27.

The demonstrators blamed the ministry for the slowdown in issuing ration cards, which are supposed to give poor families monthly financial aid.

Protesters stormed the ministry’s conference room and overturned a framed picture of President Michel Aoun before it was removed. They replaced it with a banner in Arabic that read “October 17 Revolutionaries.”

The protesters were referring to the start of nationwide protests in October 2019 against the country’s ruling class. They are being blamed for decades of corruption and mismanagement that plunged the small nation into the worst economic and financial crisis in its modern history.

One protester shouted before leaving the building after the police intervened: “He who has usurped public money cannot make reforms.” “We have hit rock bottom. Things can’t go wrong.”

The crisis was exacerbated by the coronavirus and the August 2020 explosion in the port of Beirut that killed 216 people, injured more than 6000, and devastated parts of the capital.

The cabinet, which was formed in September after a 13-month hiatus, has not met in more than six weeks amid deep divisions between rival groups over the judge leading the investigation into the port explosion. Tensions were exacerbated by the statements of a government minister that sparked a diplomatic row with the oil-rich Gulf Arab states.

The state-run National News Agency said protesters in other parts of the country had put up posters reading “the mafia that destroyed the Lebanese pound” outside some local bank branches.

Over the past two years, local lenders have imposed informal capital controls that prevent many people from accessing their savings.

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