Lebanon police scuffle with students protesting tuition hikes

BEIRUT (AFP) – Lebanese riot police on Saturday scuffled with students protesting a decision by top universities to adopt a new dollar exchange rate to price tuition – equivalent to a major fee hike.

Near the entrance of the American University of Beirut (AUB) in the city’s Hamra district, security forces fired tear gas to disperse protesters who were trying to approach the main gate.

Students responded by throwing water bottles and other objects at riot police blocking their path. It was not immediately clear if there were any injuries.

The protest came in response to a decision by AUB and the Lebanese American University (LAU), another top private institution, to price tuition based on an exchange rate of LBP3,900 to the dollar.

The nose-diving currency is still officially pegged at around LBP1,500 to the greenback.

The move has prompted fears that other universities could follow suit, potentially leading to an exodus of students from private institutions while public universities remain underfunded and overstretched.

Hundreds of students had gathered in Hamra earlier Saturday in a protest they billed a “student day of rage”.

They chanted anti-government slogans and called for affordable education in a country mired in its worst economic crisis since the 1975-1990 civil war.

Some torched dumpsters to block the street and vandalised banks before security forces pushed them out. Over the past year, the Lebanese pound has lost up to 80 per cent of its value on the black market, where on Saturday the dollar was selling for at least LBP8,200.

Universities have struggled to adapt to the de facto devaluation as prices nationwide have soared.

Banks have halted dollar transactions and restricted withdrawals of Lebanese pounds, in moves that have starved many of their savings.