Lebanon protests injure 10 soldiers as currency hits record low

The currency is officially pegged at 1,507 to the US dollar but has lost more than 90 per cent of its value in the past 18 months, falling to 18,000 on Saturday

epa09304077 Anti-government protesters burn waste bins to block a highway that leads to the airport during a protest in Beirut, Lebanon, 26 June 2021. Anti-government protesters closed the streets with garbage bins and burning tires, to protest against power cuts, high cost of living, low purchasing power of the Lebanese pound, as well as the failure of political leaders to form a government after months of deadlock. State-provided electricity in Beirut has reached record-low levels that seem insurmountable for financial reasons.  EPA/NABIL MOUNZER

Ten soldiers were injured as demonstrations in the northern Lebanese city of Tripoli descended into violence.

The state news agency said the troops were injured when men on motorcycles threw stun grenades in the centre of the city on Saturday.

The clashes came as Lebanon’s currency sank to a new low. The street value of the pound briefly dropped to 18,000 to the US dollar, while fuel shortages kept the country in darkness and long queues formed at petrol stations.

Lebanon's currency is officially pegged at 1,507 to the dollar but has lost more than 90 per cent of its value in the past 18 months and cut consumer spending power.

In Tripoli, protesters took their anger to the doorsteps of the city’s rich and powerful, gathering near the homes of several MPs.

A video posted on social media appeared to show the bodyguards of Mohammad Kabbara, an MP of prime minister-­designate Saad Hariri’s Future Movement, shooting at demonstrators.

Protesters attempted to storm offices of the Central Bank and the local government in the city centre. In January, protesters set fire to the municipality headquarters in Tripoli in anger at the country’s economic crisis.

In one incident on Saturday, two people were wounded by gunfire after a fight broke out at a fast-food restaurant.

The unrest led to small groups of demonstrators, and in places the army, blocking major roads across the country, including in Beirut and the southern city of Saida.

The clashes were the largest in the country since those in January, when several nights of unrest in Tripoli led to the death of one protester and hundreds of injuries as people took to the streets to protest against the effects of coronavirus restrictions.

On Saturday, the pound dropped rapidly to 18,000 to the dollar, down from 16,000 the day before. Currency devaluation has increased the price of many basic goods.

Stalemate in government talks has left the country without a functioning leadership for more than 10 months.

The government resigned after a chemical explosion at Beirut port killed more than 200 people and flattened parts of the capital.

An international financial bailout has been offered and depends on wide-ranging financial reforms in Lebanon, but there is little indication of any serious efforts to put those reforms in place.

On Friday, the caretaker government said it planned to reduce subsidies on fuel – a move that will increase the price of food and other essential goods. The crisis has put more than half the country into poverty, with the World Bank describing it as one of the worst economic crises since the 19th century.