Protesters paralyse Lebanon amid political, economic crisis

BEIRUT (AP) — Protesters closed all major roads leading to the Lebanese capital yesterday, causing traffic jams and triggering a call by the head of the hospitals union who warned that such moves are preventing oxygen supplies from reaching medical centres treating coronavirus patients.

The dayslong protests come against the backdrop of a crash in the local currency, increase of consumer goods prices and political bickering between rival groups that has delayed the formation of a new government.

Since the early morning hours, small groups of demonstrators blocked the southern, northern and eastern entrances to Beirut with burning tyres and by parking vehicles on the main roads. In other parts of Lebanon, army soldiers briefly opened some roads only to have protesters close them again shortly afterward.

President of the Syndicate of Hospitals in Lebanon Sleiman Haroun told The Associated Press that after a two-day weekend when there is no oxygen distribution, some hospitals are running low and urgently need supplies, especially to treat COVID-19 patients.

“This is not a joke. It is a matter of life and death,” Haroun said urging protesters to allow vehicles carrying supplies of oxygen to pass. There are several oxygen plants around Lebanon and they supply hospitals throughout the country, including some in remote areas.

Despite a weekslong lockdown in Lebanon, cases of coronavirus remain high in the tiny country, with 2,377 new cases registered on Sunday, raising the total cases since February last year to more than 395,000. The virus has also killed 5,047 people, including 33 on Sunday.

The local currency hit a record low against the United States (US) dollar on Saturday getting to close to LBP11,000 on the black market.

Lebanon has been hit by one crisis after another, starting with nationwide protests in October 2019 that revealed a severe financial and economic crisis. The situation was made worse by coronavirus and a massive blast at Beirut’s port in August that killed 211, wounded more than 6,000 and damaged large parts of Beirut.

A protester burns tyres to block a main highway, during a protest in the town of Jal el-Dib, north of Beirut, Lebanon yesterday. PHOTO: AP