Gas station strike paralyzes Lebanon as crisis deepens

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Protesters chant slogans during ongoing protests against the Lebanese political class as riot police stand guard in front of Finance Ministry building in Beirut, Lebanon, Friday, Nov. 29, 2019. Protesters have been holding demonstrations since Oct. 17 demanding an end to widespread corruption and mismanagement by the political class that has ruled the country for three decades. (AP Photo/Bilal Hussein)

BEIRUT – Angry motorists blocked roads with their vehicles in Beirut and other parts of Lebanon on Friday, creating traffic jams to protest a strike by owners of gas stations demanding an increase in gasoline prices as the local currency drops and the nation slides deeper into a financial crisis.

The road closures around Lebanon came as President Michel Aoun headed a meeting of the country’s top economic officials to discuss the rapidly deteriorating economic and financial situation in the country.

Nationwide protests that began Oct. 17 over widespread corruption and mismanagement have worsened Lebanon’s worst economic and financial crises since the 1975-90 civil war ended, as did the resignation of the government late last month. Although Hariri resigned his government on Oct. 29, Aoun has not yet set a date for binding consultations with heads of parliamentary blocs to name a new premier.

The protests were initially sparked by new taxes but quickly evolved into calls for the entire political elite to step aside.

Friday’s meeting was attended by the ministers of economy and finance as well as the Central Bank’s chief and the head of the banking association as well as the economic adviser of outgoing Prime Minister Saad Hariri.

Lebanon is one of the world’s highest indebted countries and the country’s banking sector has imposed unprecedented capital control amid a widespread shortage of dollars. People have not been allowed in recent weeks to withdraw as much as they want from their bank accounts.

The price of the dollar has dropped 40 percent on the black market after it was stable at 1,507 pounds to the dollar since 1997.

During the meeting, Aoun put forward some suggestions to come out of the crisis and it was decided that the central bank governor would take needed measures regarding coordination with banks to issue circulars to preserve stability, said a statement read by Salim Sfeir, the chairman of the Association of Banks in Lebanon.