Protesters smoke water pipes in front burning tires that were set on fire to block a road, at Martyrs Square, in downtown…
Protesters smoke water pipes in front burning tires that were set on fire to block a road, at Martyrs' Square, in downtown Beirut, Lebanon, March 6, 2021.

BEIRUT - Demonstrators blocked various roadways across Lebanon for the fifth day in a row Saturday, and a heavy army presence filled parts of the capital as anger simmered over the country's economic downturn.

Caretaker Prime Minister Hassan Diab threatened in a speech earlier in the day to stop performing his duties to pressure politicians to form a new government.

Groups of protesters have been burning tires daily to block roads since the Lebanese currency tumbled to a new low Tuesday, enraging a population long horrified by the country's financial meltdown.

On Saturday a small group of protesters in front of the banking association demanded access to their deposits, then walked to the parliament building in downtown Beirut to express their frustration. Around 50 demonstrators burned tires in Martyrs' Square in central Beirut.

Unemployment, hunger

Lebanon's financial crisis, which erupted in 2019, has wiped out jobs, raised warnings of growing hunger and locked people out of their bank accounts. A new cabinet could implement reforms needed to trigger billions of dollars of international aid.

The country has been rudderless since August when Diab's cabinet resigned after the Beirut port explosion that devastated a massive swath of the capital.

Protesters burn tires to close the main road, after the Lebanese pound hit a record low against the dollar on the black market, in Beirut, Lebanon, March 6, 2021.

Prime Minister-designate Saad al-Hariri was nominated in October but has failed to form a new cabinet because of the political deadlock between him and President Michel Aoun.

"If seclusion helps with cabinet formation, then I am ready to resort to it, although it goes against my convictions for it disrupts the entire state and is detrimental to the Lebanese," Diab said in a televised speech.

The collapse of the Lebanese pound, to 10,000 to the dollar on Tuesday, was the last straw for many who have seen prices of consumer goods such as diapers and cereals nearly triple since the financial crisis erupted.

What can a caretaker do?

"Doesn't the scramble for milk constitute a sufficient incentive to transcend formalities and roughen out the edges in order to form a government?" Diab said, referring to a recent Beirut supermarket incident in which shoppers fought over powdered milk.

A video of the squabble went viral on social media, underscoring the desperate state of the economy.

"Social conditions are aggravating, financial conditions are putting a severe strain on the country, political conditions are increasingly complex," Diab added in his speech.

"The country is confronted with enormous challenges that a normal government cannot face without political consensus, so how can a caretaker government face these challenges?"

 

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