Retired Lebanese soldiers clash with police in protests
Retired soldiers clashed with police as they tried to storm government buildings in Lebanon after being denied access to their savings.
Security forces in Beirut fired tear gas at a protest against deteriorating living conditions, as the country’s currency plummeted to new lows against the dollar.
The economic meltdown, described by the World Bank as one of the worst in recent global history, has plunged most of the population into poverty according to the United Nations.
Many of the hundreds who protested in Beirut were retired servicemen whose army pensions have lost most of their value, and depositors locked out of their savings by cash-strapped banks.
“I used to make around $4,000, now my pension is worth $150,” retired general Khaled Naous, 70, told AFP. “We’re unable to secure basic necessities.”
Security forces fired tear gas as some demonstrators tried to push through barriers to reach the Beirut compound which houses government offices, while other protesters hurled stones.
The Lebanese pound, officially pegged at 15,000 to the dollar, has been trading on parallel markets at more than 100,000 against the greenback - a dizzying plunge from 1,507 before the collapse began in late 2019.
Lebanese banks have imposed draconian withdrawal restrictions since then, essentially locking depositors out of their life savings and infuriating Lebanese.
“The people are demanding their most basic rights” while the authorities “respond with tear gas,” complained army veteran Amal Hammoud, 53.
A delegation of retired servicemen later met with Najib Mikati, the caretaker prime minister, to discuss their plight.
The currency plunge has been devastating for those on public sector salaries, and has triggered price hikes on imported fuel, food and other basic goods.
Supermarkets this month started to price items in dollars.
Many Lebanese rely on private generators for power because the cash-strapped state is only producing a few hours of electricity a day.
Since last year, the country has had no president and only a caretaker government, amid persistent deadlock between rival blocs in parliament.
In late 2019, Lebanon was rocked by unprecedented protests against the political class and deteriorating living conditions.