04/27/2020, 16.59
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Protests and chaos amid Lebanon’s economic crisis and COVID-19

Despite anti-coronavirus measures, anti-government protesters are back in the streets, setting up road blocks. Meanwhile, the prime minister and the governor of the central bank are at loggerheads. For the Maronite patriarch, the PM’s attack against the governor is "unacceptable”. The government should instead tackle the country’s "many problems".

Beirut (AsiaNews) – Despite the curfew and the lockdown imposed to contain the novel coronavirus pandemic, people are back in the streets to protest against an economic crisis that is going from bad to worse.

This comes as the government and the central bank blame each other for the crisis, a situation that also worries the Maronite patriarch Beshara al-Rahi who slammed a "plot to change the face of Lebanon”.

Late yesterday evening, protesters blocked streets and roads in various Lebanese cities, setting tyres on fire. Police responded swiftly to clear the crowds. In Zalqa, northeast of Beirut, at least six people were injured in clashes. Protests were staged also north and south of the capital, as well as in Tripoli.

For months, the country has been going through an unprecedented economic and political crisis, exacerbated by the war in neighbouring Syria, made worsened in recent weeks by the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to the latest data, 45 per cent of the population now lives below the poverty line. The country’s economy is forecast to contract 12 per cent in 2020, according to the International Monetary Fund.  And the Lebanese pound has plummeted against the dollar, resulting in high inflation.

Against this background, Prime Minister Hassan Diab took on the governor of the Central Bank Riad Salameh, accusing him of orchestrating the crash of the national currency and implementing "suspicious" and "ambiguous" policies to cover major losses in the banking sector and the flight of capital.

Yesterday, in his Sunday homily, the Maronite patriarch defended the governor. “We were expecting the premier to announce the government's fair and necessary reformist plan,” he said, so as to “eradicate the main flaws, corruption, fund waste, theft, shady deals and looting” that burden the country.

Instead, the patriarch noted that the prime minister attacked “the central bank governor without hearing him or giving him the right to defend himself”. For him, “The way that he targeted and insulted the dignity of the person (Salameh) and the institution (central bank) is totally unacceptable”.

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