Lebanon: Shoppers Fight over Basic Commodities As Lira Turmoil Closes Shops

Fighting has broken out in Lebanon’s shops after the country’s continuing currency collapse sparked store closures.

There have been scenes of people rushing into supermarkets to snap up subsidized oil and cleaning supplies, with customers shouting and clashing with each other and retail staff.

Footage of squabbling in a supermarket in Beirut’s southern suburbs circulated online, with weapons appearing as some people tried to stop the fighting and insults leveled at Hezbollah.

The black market dollar exchange rate jumped to LBP13,500 on Monday noon, from LBP12,000 on Sunday, with politicians fearing that current events were a prelude to a “social catastrophe.”

Shopkeepers put small stickers on the door to say they were shut because they did not want to raise prices.

Nabil Fahd, who heads the Supermarket Owners Syndicate, denounced what was happening because it was not helping consumers, especially when it came to accessing subsidized items.

He said that the collapse of the Lebanese pound exposed people to danger.

“We will not be able to continue to buy goods to replace those that were sold to stack the shelves again. The instability of the exchange rate reflects a decline in the operating capital of institutions.”

He added that food stores should display their prices in dollars, just as other retailers had adopted this practice to maintain sustainability and for people to be able to buy goods at their real prices.

“But we cannot adopt this method currently in light of the existing financial and monetary chaos with four or five prices for the dollar, including the official rate, the platform rate, the parallel market rate and the bank rate,” he said.

In the Tariq Al-Jadida area, one of the capital’s popular neighborhoods affiliated with Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri’s Future Movement, protesters went out on motorbikes and roamed neighborhoods, forcing exchange shops to close.

Many protesters went to Martyrs Square, in the center of Beirut.

People in Tripoli also protested the decline of the dollar exchange rate, while others blocked vital roads in Bekaa and the south.

Economic bodies called for a meeting with the General Labor Union, as some factories announced a suspension in production until further notice because of their inability to continue amid the volatile exchange rate.

Bechara Al-Asmar, leader of the General Labor Union, said it had been agreed during the meeting that it was necessary to lay “new foundations” for the relationship between employers and workers, including a pay boost to meet the high cost of living in Lebanon.

He and the other attendees met Hariri and briefed him on the current situation.

“He (Hariri) confirmed that he is working hard to form the government, but obstacles are standing in the way,” Al-Asmar told Arab News.

“The situation is very uncomfortable. What do we tell the workers? We need a government. Sixty to 70 percent of the Lebanese people now need relief.”

MP Yassine Jaber said the country was “crying out” for help.

“What is required is a decision-making authority in Lebanon, that is, the formation of an independent government that implements a reform program.”

He said the reserves of the Banque du Liban were declining monthly, and that everyone was calling for subsidy rationalization. “Nevertheless, there is no real effort to achieve this rationalization.”

Parliamentary committees will meet Tuesday to give a LBP1,500 billion ($995.02 million) Treasury advance payment to the national electricity company. Lebanon will otherwise enter darkness at the end of this month, Energy Minister Raymond Ghajar has warned.

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