BEIRUT: Hundreds of Lebanese gathered in cities across Lebanon Saturday, peacefully protesting against the crippling depreciation of the local currency and calling for the government’s resignation.
Protesters marched the streets of Downtown Beirut in the afternoon, making their way through Bechara Khoury and stopping at Riadh al-Solh, the original epicenter of the Oct. 17 popular uprising. Hundreds also marched in the southern city of Sidon, calling for the overhaul of the entire political class and directing their ire at Central Bank Governor Riad Salameh.
In Tripoli, televised footage showed protesters throwing rocks and fireworks at the Army and security forces, which responded by launching tear gas. Injuries were reported by local media.
“The government that came in after Oct. 17 doesn’t represent the uprising. It represents sectarianism and this is unacceptable,” said a protester in a televised interview with local media in Beirut, referring to Diab’s government.
"We demand to know who is responsible for the economic situation in the country. Who is the thief?" said another protester.
Diab addressed the country in a televised speech Saturday evening, calling on Lebanese to be patient and refrain from violence during protests.
He took the opportunity to assure the Lebanese that people’s bank deposits would not be touched, and that the government was seeking to confront the “plot to manipulate the dollar rate.”
Diab’s comments come after a night of violent protests in Downtown Beirut Friday which saw storefronts vandalized and set on fire.
Lebanon’s political and financial elite throughout Friday made addresses promising to stabilize the Lebanese pound, but their statements fell on the deaf ears of a population exhausted by empty pledges.
Many people were driven to the street because of the decimation of the Lebanese pound’s exchange rate, which stooped as low as LL5,000 to the dollar that day – a 70 percent devaluation on the official rate of LL1507.5 to the dollar.
Any faith on the street that Diab’s government could carry out the reforms needed to get the economy back on track and secure international financing also dried up Wednesday, when the government endorsed a new round of senior appointments to the civil service and financial sector oversight bodies. The appointments were widely viewed as based on sectarian interests rather than merit.