Lebanese protesting the dire living conditions took to the streets Thursday across the country, blocking vital highways and roads.
In the capital, protesters blocked the roads around Martyrs Square, sparking altercations with motorists who were trapped in their vehicles. Security forces later intervened to reopen the roads and contain the situation.
Nearby, other protesters blocked the major Ring highway, which connects Beirut’s east to its west, and the neighboring Beshara al-Khoury highway.
Protesters also blocked the Sport City-Cola road with burning tires and trash bins.
Outside the capital, protesters blocked the Ghobeiri road leading to the Kuwaiti Embassy and the Furn el-Chebbak road at the Chevrolet intersection.
TV networks said army troops were trying to reopen the Furn el-Chebbak road.
Protesters also blocked the highway linking Beirut to the South in the Jiye and Naameh areas and the highway linking Beirut to the North in the Zalka, Jal el-Dib and Zouk areas.
In the South, protesters blocked the Adloun-Sidon highway and Sidon’s eastern highway.
Several key roads were also blocked in the North and the Bekaa governorates.
In a new low, a fistfight broke out inside a supermarket in Beirut, apparently over the purchase of subsidized powdered milk. Some supermarkets and groceries have started setting restrictions on how much people can purchase amid limited supplies and as panicked residents stock up on food at home.
The famous supermarket in Beirut issued a statement later saying the fistfight broke out when a shopper attacked a branch manager who told him he cannot buy large amounts of subsidized milk and oil without considering the restrictions.
“They are humiliating people with a bag of milk,” shouted one protester at a rally on a main highway north of Beirut. “The ruling class must go.”
The protests had first erupted on Tuesday after the dollar started trading for nearly LBP 10,000 on the black market, a record high for the crisis-hit country.
The development coincided with severe power cuts across the country linked to the shortage of foreign currency.
President Michel Aoun has described the protests as “legitimate” while asking Central Bank Governor Riad Salameh to investigate the collapse of the local currency and expose any currency speculation operations by individuals, institutions or banks.
Lebanon has been hit by one crisis after another, with widespread protests against the country’s corrupt political class starting in October 2019. That has been compounded by the coronavirus pandemic and a massive explosion in Beirut’s port last August that killed hundreds and injured thousands, decimated the facility and disfigured much of the city.
Bickering between Lebanon’s political rivals has left the country in a stalemate for months, only worsening the economic disaster sparked by a debt crisis and sovereign default last year.
The government resigned days after the Beirut blast and Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri was chosen to form a new Cabinet in October but disagreements between him and President Michel Aoun have delayed the formation of the new Cabinet.
On Thursday, Hariri who is in the United Arab Emirates, blamed his rivals for delays while Free Patriotic Movement chief Jebran Bassil, a son-in-law of the president, responded by saying that Hariri “is not ready to form a Cabinet.”