Lebanon’s caretaker PM warns of chaos as currency plunges

BEIRUT (AP) — Lebanon’s caretaker prime minister warned on Saturday that the country was quickly headed toward chaos and appealed to politicians to put aside differences in order to form a new government that can attract desperately needed foreign assistance.

Hassan Diab, who resigned almost seven months ago as prime minister, threatened to suspend his caretaker duties if that would increase pressure for a new Cabinet to be formed.

He spoke in a terse address to the nation as the currency continued its rapid collapse against the dollar, trading at nearly LBP11,000 on the black market for the first time in its history. Angry protesters have blocked streets and highways across the country with burning tyres for days, as the pound slid to record new lows.

The crash in the local currency has resulted in a sharp increase in prices as well as delays in the arrival of fuel shipments, leading to more extended power cuts around the country, in some areas reaching more than 12 hours a day. The crisis has driven nearly half the population of the small country of six million into poverty, wiped out savings and slashed consumer purchasing power.

Small groups of protesters blocked roads again in several areas Friday, setting fire to tyres and pieces of furniture.

Protesters stand next to burning tyres set on fire to block a main road. PHOTO: AP

“The dollar is LBP10,500 and everyone has four or five children on their neck, including their parents. They (politicians) need to feed us,” cried one protester.

“They vaccinated themselves from corona but they opened the country so that people could die,” he added, referring to a group of la makers who inoculated themselves in Parliament last month wit out prior approval, a move that led the World Bank to consider suspending its financing of vaccines in Lebanon.

Another protester who identified himself only by his first name, Ali, said he was frustrated that other Lebanese were still sitting at home.

“Where are the Lebanese people? The dollar is now LBP10,500 and it will reach to 15 or 20 thousand. Why are we in homes? We have to go down!”

Diab, who resigned in the wake of the massive August 4 explosion at Beirut port, suggested he might stop working in his role.

“If it helps to form a government, I am prepared to resort to that option even though it goes against my principles,” he said.

In October, former Prime Minister Saad Hariri was named to form a new Cabinet but five months later, disagreements between him and President Michel Aoun on the shape of the Cabinet has stood in the way of a new government’s formation. Lebanon has also been in desperate need of foreign currency, but international donors have said they will only help the country financially if major reforms are implemented to fight widespread corruption, which has brought the nation to the brink of bankruptcy.

“What are you waiting for, more collapse? More suffering? Chaos?” Diab said, chiding senior politicians without naming them for grandstanding on the shape and size of the government while the country slides further into the abyss.

“Lebanon is in grave danger and the Lebanese are paying  the price.”