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Morning Brief

Subsidies protests, dollar aid push, Aoun and Hariri fight: Everything you need to know to start your Thursday

Here’s what happened yesterday and what to expect today, Thursday, March 18

Subsidies protests, dollar aid push, Aoun and Hariri fight: Everything you need to know to start your Thursday

A man walks past a closed shopping center in Saida. The sign reads: “Closed until the Lebanese lira is rescued.” (Credit: Aziz Taher/Reuters)

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Protesters demonstrated in front of the Economy Ministry in Beirut and the house of the caretaker finance minister against the lifting of subsidies in the coming weeks. Ghazi Wazni said Tuesday that subsidies will be lifted gradually, but the minister did not offer a clear time frame. The announcement added to economic worries amid the lira’s steep depreciation. Some supermarkets closed for the fourth day running as a result of the lira’s rapid collapse, while others saw a rush of customers looking to stock up. Meanwhile, protesters also blocked roads in Corniche al-Mazraa, Verdun, Qasqas and Concord in Beirut, Baabda, Elia junction in Saida, Nabatieh, Sur and multiple roads in Tripoli to voice frustration over deteriorating living conditions.

Three international donors sent a letter to the Finance Ministry urging the state to pay assistance to the vulnerable in hard currency rather than the collapsing lira. In the letter, representatives of the United Nations, World Bank and European Union took note of a verbal agreement they said they had reached in February with Lebanese officials to distribute aid in US dollars. But according to a source with knowledge of the matter, the letter “is not a guarantee that this will happen. We have to wait and see how they will react to it.” Meanwhile, the central bank governor and caretaker finance minister met to discuss plans to reverse the lira’s stunning deterioration. Riad Salameh said Ghazi Wazni and the central council of Banque du Liban would study the proposals over the next 24 hours, the NNA reported.

Many pharmacies across Lebanon will close their doors today in protest of the lira’s collapse and the knock-on effects on sourcing medicines and operational costs. The president of the Order of Pharmacists in Lebanon told L’Orient Today that while the syndicate has not called the strike, it supports it. Although the central bank rolled out a mechanism in 2019 to subsidize 85 percent of import bills for medicines, the process to acquire these subsidized dollars takes months, Ghassan Al-Amin said.

Truckers at Beirut port will hold a press conference today to announce a complete suspension of operations. The strike means that trucks will stop transporting goods to and from the port, a spokesperson for the syndicate said. Truck owners said the strike will continue until the exchange rate stabilizes, according to local media reports. The syndicate had previously carried out a strike for the same reasons, but as a spokesperson told L’Orient Today, “no one responded to our needs.”

Michel Aoun and Saad Hariri each called on the other to compromise on cabinet formation or resign. In a televised speech last night, the president blamed the premier-designate for “drafting government proposals that do not meet constitutional standards,” and called on Hariri to resign if he is unable to swiftly form a government. Later, Hariri shot back in a statement, saying he was awaiting feedback on a list of names sent to the president weeks ago, adding that if Aoun is not able to sign a cabinet formation decree, he should resign and make way for early presidential elections. Just before Aoun’s speech, a large group of protesters gathered near the Presidential Palace in Baabda, demonstrating against deteriorating living conditions and inflation, according to reports on local and social media. Army and security forces, present in abundance, pushed the protesters back.


Want to get the Morning Brief by email? Click here to sign up.Protesters demonstrated in front of the Economy Ministry in Beirut and the house of the caretaker finance minister against the lifting of subsidies in the coming weeks. Ghazi Wazni said Tuesday that subsidies will be lifted gradually, but the minister did not offer a clear time frame. The announcement added to economic worries amid...