Here’s what happened yesterday and what to expect today, Friday, March 5, 2021 and this weekend.
A protester stands atop an overturned dumpster at a roadblock in Beirut on Thursday evening. (Credit: João Sousa/L’Orient Today)
For a third day running, protesters blocked roads across the country amid the ruling elite’s inability to address mounting economic hardships. Anger spilled out onto the streets Thursday from Beirut to the south, in the Bekaa as well as along the coastal highway northward to Tripoli. As living conditions deteriorate and the local currency remains mired at historic lows, Saad Hariri — who is on a trip to the UAE — once again blamed President Michel Aoun and his son-in-law Gebran Bassil for blocking the formation of a new government. The FPM leader, in turn, accused the premier-designate of “kidnapping” the potential cabinet. While the two continued their monthslong squabble over how to split shares in a new government, a desperate brawl erupted in a shopping market outside Beirut over powdered milk.
The US is reportedly weighing sanctions against Lebanon’s central bank governor related to an embezzlement probe into him in Switzerland. Biden administration officials have “discussed the possibility of coordinated measures with their European counterparts targeting Riad Salameh,” Bloomberg news said in a bombshell report yesterday. The publication added that the Swiss investigation into potential money laundering involving Banque du Liban, announced in January, was zeroing in on allegations that “Salameh indirectly benefited from the sale of Lebanese Eurobonds held in the central bank’s portfolio between 2002 and 2016.” The potential sanctions would represent a reversal of US support for the central bank chief. In May 2020, Washington’s envoy to Lebanon defended Salameh — one of the main architects of the country’s failed financial system — saying he “enjoys great confidence in the international financial community.”
The World Bank is reviewing the Health Ministry’s response regarding yesterday’s deadline for disclosures on its COVID-19 vaccination efforts, a World Bank official told L’Orient Today. The World Bank’s Middle East point-person, however, did not elaborate further. The World Bank, which is helping finance Lebanon’s COVID-19 vaccination program, queried the Health Ministry for data after last week’s vaccine line-jumping scandal at Parliament. Meanwhile, the Health Ministry rejected a judge’s 48-hour deadline to vaccinate an 80-year old citizen. The judge argued the ministry’s vaccination of a dozen MPs on Feb. 23, an apparent violation of the inoculation program, deprived the elderly man of his right to health. The Legal Agenda’s Nizar Saghieh told L’Orient Today that the Health Ministry’s rejection of the judge’s ruling had no legal basis. As scandal swirls over the vaccination program and pandemic-related fears persist, another 53 COVID-19 related deaths were registered Thursday.
Lebanon’s beleaguered state-run electricity firm once again vowed power supply would improve, albeit “gradually.” Électricité du Liban announced yesterday that a tanker had delivered fuel to the Deir Ammar power plant, while a second vessel is expected to supply the Jiyyeh power plant today. A third fuel tanker still needs to deliver its consignment for two Turkish power barges, EDL added. Lebanon has suffered from increased nationwide power outages in recent weeks due, in part, to obstacles hindering the delivery of fuel for power plants.
In further warning signs over worsening economic conditions, bakeries and a cement manufacturer sounded the alarm over lack of supplies. The Syndicate of Bakeries warned that its members were struggling to purchase ingredients for baking bread and called for the Economy Ministry to help control prices. Meanwhile, Cimenterie National, one of the largest cement manufacturers in Lebanon, announced it will stop supplying the market from Saturday due to the exhaustion of its stock. The firm, one of three cement producers that run an effective oligopoly, said it has been unable to secure essential raw materials since the government shut its quarries.
Parliament’s environment committee decided to form a “crisis cell” to coordinate efforts to remove tar from southern Lebanese beaches. Amid the state’s delayed response to the oil spill, which ravaged the coastline of occupied Palestine, volunteers have already mobilized to tackle the pollution, which threatens endangered turtles. The National Council for Scientific Research praised these efforts, while appealing for the state to organize a more comprehensive response to address the scale of the oil spill, which dumped an estimated 4-5 tons of tar across 30 kilometers of coast. The caretaker premier, for his part, made several requests for follow-up while asking for World Bank help.