Roads Blocked, Lira Drops as Cabinet Talks Break Down

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Supporters of Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri block a road link to the international airport in Beirut, Lebanon, Monday, March 22, 2021. Protesters blocked some roads in the Lebanese capital with burning tires Monday after talks on the formation of a new Cabinet broke down, heralding more economic and financial collapse for the small Arab country. (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar)

Protesters blocked some roads in the Lebanese capital with burning tires Monday after talks on the formation of a new Cabinet broke down, heralding more economic and financial collapse for the small country.

The Lebanese pound also fell against the dollar on the black market after the meeting failed to produce a breakthrough.

Small groups of protesters used garbage containers to block several main roads in Beirut’s Corniche al-Mazraa, Qasqas and Cite Sportive areas. Outside the central bank in the capital’s Hamra street, protesters set fire to trash in containers and knocked them over to block the street.

Hariri made the announcement about the talks’ failure following a short meeting with President Michel Aoun — a last-ditch effort at repairing a rift that has impeded formation of a government tasked with halting the country’s rapid economic collapse. Hariri placed the blame squarely on Aoun for the months-long delay, accusing him of insisting on acquiring veto power for his political team in the new government.

Hariri, who was tasked by Aoun to form a Cabinet in October after he was named by a majority of lawmakers, is seeking to form a Cabinet of technocrats, or non-partisan specialists, while Aoun has asked for an expanded Cabinet of at least 20 ministers. Meanwhile, the country has been adrift with only a caretaker government in charge as it slides further into an economic abyss.

The economic and financial crisis roiling Lebanon is the gravest threat to its stability since the 15-year civil war ended in 1990.

The country’s local currency has been in a free fall since late 2019, losing over 90% of its value. The government defaulted on its foreign debt last year and nearly half the population has been pushed into poverty and unemployment.

Prices of basic goods have increased and inflation has soared. Banks have imposed informal controls on people’s savings, and the Central Bank’s foreign reserves have shrunk in a country dependent on imports.

The outgoing government resigned last August, following a massive explosion at Beirut’s port that killed 211 people, wounded more than 6,000 and damaged entire neighborhoods in the capital.

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