Attacks on Syrian voters, new dollar rate for banks, Parliament to meet over Aoun’s letter: Everything you need to know to start your Friday

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Hundreds of Syrian voters turned out at their country’s embassy in Baabda on Thursday to cast their vote in the Syrian presidential election. (Credit: João Sousa/L’Orient Today)

Several groups of Syrians were assaulted as they traveled to cast ballots in their country’s presidential election at the Syrian Embassy in Baabda. Lebanese protesters opposed to the current Syrian government attacked buses and cars carrying Syrian flags and displaying images of President Bashar al-Assad as they passed through Zouk, Nahr al-Kalb and Jounieh. In Beirut, protesters in Sassine Square smashed the windows of a car displaying pro-Assad paraphernalia. The Lebanese Army was deployed to calm the situation. Meanwhile, politicians from Lebanon’s rival political alliances took to Twitter to voice their positions on the Assad regime and Syrians’ presence in Lebanon. The tensions capped a prickly leadup to the presidential election — Syria’s first since 2014 — which was marked by accusations from rights groups that many Syrians were being pressured by pro-Assad loyalists to support him in the polls.

The Lebanese Army foiled yet another attempt to smuggle Syrians off Akkar’s coast. Some 125 Syrians were arrested when a naval patrol intercepted the vessel on which they were attempting to “cross the sea illegally,” according to a tweet from the Lebanese Army. It was at least the fourth people smuggling attempt in recent weeks. The recent uptick in unlawful migration activity comes as Lebanon’s economic and political crises deepen with no resolution in sight. Separately, local media outlets reported that Lebanese authorities also thwarted an operation to smuggle hashish packed as scrap cargo on a commercial vessel set to sail from Saida to Egypt. Operations to thwart goods smuggling have stepped up since last month, when Saudi Arabia imposed a ban on Lebanese produce imports after the kingdom said it found more than 5 million Captagon pills hidden in a shipment of pomegranates from Lebanon.

Banque du Liban announced that it will sell dollars to commercial banks at a rate of LL12,000 via its new currency exchange platform, Sayrafa. Those wishing to buy dollars should deposit lira in cash at commercial banks by Tuesday, which will then place the money at the central bank. BDL said it will transfer the purchased dollars to banks’ correspondent entities abroad on Thursday. BDL asked that families of students studying abroad and importers be prioritized to avail of this new exchange rate, but it gave no indication of the rate at which commercial banks should sell the dollars to their customers. This dollar injection appears to be BDL’s latest attempt at stabilizing the lira, which has lost 88 percent of its value on the black market since mid-2019, but previous dollar infusions by the central bank failed to stymie its plunge.

Parliament will meet today following a request from the president that the legislature discuss the country’s stalled cabinet formation process. A strongly worded missive from Michel Aoun, sent via Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, said Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri is incapable of forming a government and asked Parliament to take up the matter. Three Sunni former prime ministers said on Wednesday that Aoun’s letter violated the constitution by undermining the separation of powers between the president and the prime minister. A constitutional expert told our sister publication, L’Orient-Le Jour, that “the president’s letter is meaningless” as the legislature cannot constitutionally remove Hariri as premier-designate. Rumors have circulated that Hariri was pondering stepping aside, but the prime minister-designate has made no public comments on the subject.

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