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Morning brief

Everything you need to know to start your Friday

Everything you need to know to start your Friday

The Association of Banks in Lebanon. (Ahmad Azakir)

BEIRUT — Here’s what happened yesterday and what to expect today, Friday, Oct. 16, and this weekend.

Lebanon’s banks backed Banque du Liban’s measure that prompted them to lower withdrawal limits on depositors’ lira accounts. The Association of Banks in Lebanon claimed that BDL’s move to soak up lira liquidity was practiced by central banks around the world to curb excessive inflation. The ABL, which represents the interests of private banks, urged people to use their credit cards and checks instead of cash. Customers at several banks had learned the day before that there were new limits on the amount of lira they could take out of their accounts. The problem of excess lira — which has fueled inflation and a slide in the lira’s foreign exchange value — was created over the past year as BDL more than trebled the amount of lira in circulation to make up for the dollar-denominated hole in the financial system’s balance sheet.

Lebanon’s surge in coronavirus cases shows no sign of letting up after a new record of daily cases — 1,550 — was set. Two more people died from the virus, bringing the total death toll to 501. The hollowed-out health system, already on the verge of collapse, is being further threatened by the central bank’s requirement that importers of essential medical supplies provide cash lira in order to benefit from subsidies — another measure intended to soak up excess lira, according to analysts. Medical syndicates warned in a joint press conference yesterday that hospitals could stop working “within days” if BDL doesn’t reverse its decision.

The caretaker health minister inspected pharmacies and medicine warehouses in Zahle accused of smuggling subsidized drugs out of the country. Hamad Hassan ordered the closure of several of the businesses and claimed to the media invited for his inspection tour that the “collapse of the medicine mafia” had begun. Hassan’s attempt to show action on pharmaceutical shortages comes after he announced on Monday the start of a campaign against hoarders and smugglers of medicine. Fears over the removal of subsidies for medicine have exacerbated drug shortages as customers rush to stock up and pharmacists become selective over who they sell to.

The US State Department’s point man for the Middle East paid a visit to Nabih Berri yesterday, a little over a month after Washington sanctioned the parliamentary speaker’s right-hand man. David Schenker, who was in the country for the opening of the US-mediated border talks between Lebanon and Israel, did not make any comments to the press after the meeting. Schenker, a hawkish official who previously worked at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, a pro-Israel think tank, had praised Berri for his efforts on the maritime border talks in an Oct. 1 press conference.

Caretaker Justice Minister Marie-Claude Najm said the probe into the Aug. 4 Beirut explosion would be “fast, but not rushed.” She added that the judge leading the probe, Fadi Sawwan, would be examining reports by French and British investigators. The FBI on Tuesday said that its probe into the explosion had not reached a firm conclusion. More than ten weeks after the devastating explosion at the Beirut port that killed at least 202 people and injured more than 7,000, no one has been held accountable.

Protests are planned across the country today and tomorrow as Lebanon marks the first anniversary of the Oct. 17 uprising. Almost one year ago, angry citizens took to the streets demanding the wholesale resignation of Lebanon’s entrenched political class. While Saad Hariri resigned his government on Oct. 29, other officials have remained in place. One year later, another government has come and gone, Hariri is campaigning to return to the Grand Serail, and Lebanon’s crises have only compounded.


BEIRUT — Here’s what happened yesterday and what to expect today, Friday, Oct. 16, and this weekend.

Lebanon’s banks backed Banque du Liban’s measure that prompted them to lower withdrawal limits on depositors’ lira accounts. The Association of Banks in Lebanon claimed that BDL’s move to soak up lira liquidity was practiced by central banks around the world to curb...