Lebanese govt meets after raging protests

Protests have erupted in Lebanon as the country's currency dives amid an economic crisis.
Protests have erupted in Lebanon as the country's currency dives amid an economic crisis.

Lebanon's prime minister have held an emergency cabinet meeting after a night of raging protests in which demonstrators shut down roads across the country with burning tires in renewed protests spurred by a plunging national currency.

Scuffles with security forces broke out in several locations on Thursday night as people spontaneously took to the streets after the pound tumbled to a new low against the US dollar.

Protesters in central Beirut pelted police and soldiers with rocks and smashed some storefronts, drawing volleys of tear gas.

Some protesters set fire to a private bank, while others threw stones at the offices of other banks in an expression of anger at their perceived role in deepening their economic malaise.

Security forces reopened blocked roads early on Friday as the protests calmed.

Prime Minister Hassan Diab called for an emergency session to discuss the crisis. Riad Salameh, the governor of the central bank who has been singled out by Diab for his mishandling of the situation, took part in the meeting.

The renewed demonstrations amid calls for Diab's resignation are a huge challenge for the prime minister who took over in December after his predecessor, Saad Hariri, resigned amid nationwide protests late last year.

Despite efforts to control the currency depreciation in recent weeks, the Lebanese pound tumbled to more than 6000 to the dollar on Thursday, down from 4000 on the black market in recent days.

The pound had maintained a fixed rate of 1500 to the dollar for nearly 30 years.

The crash appeared to reflect the growing shortage of foreign currency on the market amid the crisis. It also signalled panic over new US sanctions that will affect neighbouring Syria in the coming days as well as lack of trust in the government's management of the crisis.

The heavily indebted Lebanese government has been in talks for weeks with the International Monetary Fund after it asked for a financial rescue plan but there are no signs of an imminent deal.

Lebanon's financial crisis predates the virus pandemic that put the country in a total lockdown for months, further compounding the crisis.

Australian Associated Press