Morning brief – Lockdown loosens, lira drops, Diab threatens to ‘retreat’: Everything you need to know to start your Monday

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Caretaker Prime Minister Hassan Diab speaks at the Serail in Beirut on Saturday. (Credit: Dalati Nohra/handout via Reuters)

Today, Lebanon heads into the next phase of reopening from the countrywide COVID-19 lockdown. In this phase, set to last until March 22, companies and institutions will be permitted to open their offices from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Educational offices, car registration branches, hotels and hair salons will also be allowed to open, as will businesses such as plumbers, carpenters and tailors. Restaurants and gyms will remain closed until the next phase. Caretaker Education Minister Tarek Majzoub has said that the ministry aims to begin gradually reopening schools from March 22, beginning with students in exam years.

Protests against the plummeting value of the lira continued throughout the weekend, as the price of the dollar reached more than LL10,500 for the first time in Lebanon’s history. Roads have been sporadically blocked with burning tires within Beirut and on highways outside of the capital. On Friday, Lebanon’s top prosecutor, Judge Ghassan Oueidat, told security forces to investigate and pursue “manipulators, exchangers and illegal speculators of the national currency.” Meanwhile, internet provider Ogero has said it will crack down on platforms tracking the black market exchange rate. The popular lirarate.com site was down Sunday night; it was added to an Ogero list of blocked sites late last week.

As the lira continued its plunge, embattled central bank head Riad Salameh threatened to sue Bloomberg News and its Beirut correspondent over a report that the US was considering sanctions against him. Salameh asserted in a statement that the article in question amounted to “national treason that affects the country’s financial security.” Bloomberg had reported Thursday that the Biden administration was considering sanctions against Salameh in cooperation with European counterparts. Speaking with L’Orient Today, a spokesperson for the US Embassy in Lebanon denied the reports.

Hassan Diab said he is prepared to “retreat” from his duties as caretaker premier if it will accelerate the formation of a new government and the subsequent implementation of needed reforms. “We cannot solve the social crisis without resolving the financial crisis. We cannot solve the financial crisis without resuming negotiations with the IMF. We cannot carry on negotiations with the IMF without undertaking reforms. And we cannot carry out reforms without forming a new government,” Diab said in a televised address Saturday. Diab’s government fell seven months ago Wednesday.

Ahead of today’s celebration of International Women’s Day, Beirut municipal officials unveiled a memorial Sunday to Sahar Fares in front of the Beirut Fire Brigade barracks in Karantina. A young paramedic and bride-to-be, Fares was killed in the Beirut port explosion after being dispatched to fight the fire that preceded the blast. Officials described her as the “first female martyr in the military corps.” A number of women’s organizations, trade unions and civil society organizations will hold an event marking Women’s Day today at 1 p.m. in front of the ESCWA building in downtown at the invitation of the National Federation of Workers’ and Employees’ Trade Unions in Lebanon (FENASOL), while other women’s groups are planning a march today at 4 p.m. from the National Museum to Martyrs’ Square.

 

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