OIL PRICES in Lebanon registered an additional hike on Tuesday, December 14th, as the country’s currency slid to a new low against the US dollar.
Lebanon has seen mass protests from impoverished workers and youth.
Delivery app drivers protesting against the cost of fuel clashed with police in October.
Demonstrators, some of them burning tyres, blocked roads across parts of Lebanon two-and-a-half weeks ago, on Monday November 29, in protest at the country’s economic meltdown, days after the Lebanese pound sank to new lows.
Lebanon’s economic crisis, which erupted in 2019, has propelled more than three quarters of the population into poverty and the local currency has plummeted by over 90%.
The Lebanese pound sank to more than 25,000 against the dollar the previous week, from a peg in 2019 of 1,500.
Roads were blocked by burning tyres in central Beirut, Tripoli in northern Lebanon and the southern city of Sidon.
There has been little progress since Prime Minister Najib Mikati’s government was appointed in September after more than a year of political deadlock that compounded the crisis.
Mikati’s government has been in paralysis since a row over the lead investigator into a fatal explosion at Beirut port last year flared during a cabinet meeting on October 12.
The cabinet has not met since then.
Subsidies have been cut back on almost all goods, including fuel and medicine, pushing up prices as basic services such as healthcare crumble.
The cabinet’s main focus was on a revival of talks with the International Monetary Fund, needed to unlock foreign aid.
But an agreement on vital financial figures, a requirement to start negotiations, has not been reached.
On Tuesday, December 14, several Beirut currency exchange traders said the Lebanese pound was trading at around 27,200 per dollar, exceeding an all-time low.
The currency has now lost more than 93% of its value since the summer of 2019, when it began to split from the rate of 1,500 pounds per dollar at which it had been pegged since 1997.
Also on Tuesday, the price of gasoline (95 octanes) had increased by LBP (Lebanese pounds) 10,800 to 318,800 and the price of gasoline (98 octanes) increased by LBP 11,200 to 329,800, National News Agency (NNA) reported.
It added that the price of diesel has increased by LBP 17,800 to 338,900, while the price of a gas cylinder has increased by LBP 13,700 to 293,500.
The value of the Lebanese national currency has continued its steady deterioration in the black market.
On Monday this week, it was trading at nearly 27,000 pounds to the dollar on the black market, according to media reports.
Meanwhile, the commodities prices have been remarkably hiked in the crisis-hit country, while the citizens’ purchase power has declined to its minimum levels.
Lebanon is witnessing one of the severest economic crises throughout its history.
This is due to the local corruption as well as the siege imposed by the United States which has banned the dollar flow into the country.
Meanwhile, the Lebanese ministry of public health on Monday issued its daily report in which it announced 787 new coronavirus cases, raising total to 69,0841.
The report added that 13,092 PCR tests were conducted during the past 24 hours, adding that the number of cases of recovery from the coronavirus rose to 64,2928.
According to the report, 12 new coronavirus-related death cases were registered, which raised the toll to 8,860.
Lebanon has continued the anti-coronavirus vaccination campaign across all the provinces as the batches of vaccines are scheduled to arrive in Beirut gradually.
- Lebanon President, General Michel Aoun, met United Nations Special Envoy to Syria, Ambassador Geir Pedersen, on Tuesday at the Presidential Palace.
The President informed Ambassador Pedersen: ‘The international community must assume its responsibility in facilitating the return of displaced Syrians to their country, especially since most of the Syrian regions have become safe.
‘These displaced persons can return to their lands and homes and live instead of relying on the aid which they receive from international organisation, knowing that many question marks revolve around the ways of distributing this aid and the extent to which it reaches its actual beneficiaries.’
The President also briefed Ambassador Pedersen on the difficult economic and living conditions experienced by the Lebanese.
He pointed out: ‘The burden of Syrian displacement has been added to these difficulties, in addition to the infrastructural damage in Lebanon, which the Lebanese state is working on finding appropriate solutions to through the recovery plan that the government sets to discuss with the International Monetary Fund.
‘After the plan is approved then the process of rehabilitating affected sectors can begin.’
In addition, President Aoun commended the efforts made by Ambassador Pedersen to achieve progress in the path of a political solution to the Syrian crisis, including working on drafting a new constitution in agreement with the concerned parties, for the interest of Syria, its people and regional countries, especially Lebanon.
For his side, Ambassador Pedersen had briefed the President on the data related to the move he is taking and the talks he held with Syrian officials on Monday which aim to find solutions to the Syrian crisis.
Pedersen also expressed the appreciation of the UN and international community for the care provided by the Lebanese state to the displaced Syrians in Lebanon, despite the difficult economic circumstances which Lebanon suffers from.
Ambassador Pederson pointed out that the UN is working to find appropriate ways for the displaced to return to Syria and is prioritising this issue among its concerns during Geneva deliberations, in which Lebanon is invited to participate.
- Historically, Beirut was the media platform of the local and Arab political movements.
However, the Lebanese prime minister Najib Mikati and his interior minister Bassam Al-Mawlawi on Monday reversed the direction, banning a press conference for the Bahraini opposition.
A group of Bahraini opposition figures had held a press conference in Beirut, exposing the crimes of Al-Manama regime against the citizens in the Kingdom.
The regime’s foreign ministry sent a letter to the Lebanese authorities that condemned the press conference and its content.
PM Mikati ordered the competent judiciary and authorities to hold a probe with the Bahraini figures who participated in the press conference.
For his part, Al-Mawlawi received the foreign minister Abdullah Abu Habibb and maintained he would not accept that Lebanon ‘turns to be a platform which insults the Bahraini Kingdom’.
Do Mikati and Al-Mawlawi know that the Western media and protesters abuse the Gulf leaders in person and via the available outlets without facing any objection.
Will restricting political freedoms be the new trend in Lebanon in accordance with the Gulf regime inclinations?, asked al-Manar TV.
- The UN has repeatedly ignored requests from bereaved families for information to help the official investigation into the Beirut port explosion which killed 219 people in August last year.
The probe has been beset by delays, rows and recriminations, leaving families and survivors no closer to finding out who, if anyone, was to blame.
The official investigation into the devastating explosion was supposed to provide the truth. But it has stalled.
One week after the explosion the United Nations called for ‘a prompt and independent investigation that leads to justice and accountability’.
But when bereaved families asked for information to help the inquiry, the UN didn’t reply.
The Beirut Bar Association represents nearly 2,000 families and survivors at the investigation.
Its chairman sent three separate letters directly to UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, asking for some specific details.
They requested two things. First, all available satellite photos taken on the day of the blast by member states.
And secondly, whether Unifil (United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon) checked the MV Rhosus – the ship that carried the explosive material which caused the explosion – back in 2013, before it arrived at Beirut port.
Last week Russia said its space agency Roscosmos was preparing to hand over images of the blast site, after a request from the Lebanese president, Michel Aoun.
The first of the families’ letters was sent by the Bar Association on 26 October 2020. A follow-up was dispatched three weeks later on 19 November, noting ‘it has been more than 100 days since the blast, to date none of the member states or Unifil has sent any photos or information’.
The third letter, dated 17 March 2021, stated: ‘Seven months have passed since the blast and five months since our letter, and unfortunately our letters remain unanswered and unacknowledged. Lebanon is a founder member of the UN and is asking for help.’
Ramzi Haykal, a veteran lawyer in Lebanon and a member of the Beirut Bar Association, is defiant.
‘Let me tell you something, we are fighters’ he said. ‘We are fighters by law. And we will continue fighting, because we are responsible for 1,800 people who asked us to represent them to obtain justice.’