Lebanese security forces try to reopen a road blocked by protesters south of Beirut on Wednesday. (Credit: Mahmoud Zayyat/AFP)
After more than a week of widespread roadblocks by protesters in response to the deteriorating economic situation, most thoroughfares were reopened Wednesday. The Lebanese Army said in a statement Wednesday morning that soldiers had begun removing blockades and reopening roads “in order to preserve the safety of citizens.” Meanwhile, a spat erupted between the Free Patriotic Movement and the Lebanese Forces parties over responsibility for the road closures. The FPM accused the LF of “lying and political hypocrisy” after the LF said in a statement Wednesday that it was not behind the blocking of roads by protesters, as some FPM and Hezbollah-affiliated sites had implied.
In Saida, hundreds of protesters gathered in Martyrs’ Square and marched through the streets in a demonstration convened by the Popular Nasserite Organization and various leftist groups. MP Ousama Saad, the head of the Nasserite group, speaking at a rally after the march, called for protesters to return to the squares in all regions of Lebanon, saying, “The Lebanese people want a peaceful and secure national solution, and [the political leaders] are taking us to chaos and dismemberment of the nation.”
The army announced it has completed distribution of the LL150 billion allocated by the state so far to compensate owners of houses damaged in the Beirut port explosion. A total of 20,297 housing units have received compensation, about a third of the 62,087 the army assessed as damaged. The distribution began in October, with army officials acknowledging at the time that the funding available would not be enough to cover all the damaged units. March 4 marked the seven-month anniversary of the port blast.
Ali Hassan Khalil proposed a law to give every member of the army and security forces a monthly payment of LL1 million for a six-month period. The Amal MP’s proposal follows explosive comments earlier this week by Gen. Joseph Aoun, in which the army commander said that soldiers are “suffering and starving.” The proposal drew concerns from some economists, who said it would further accelerate the inflation that is decimating the economy and the purchasing power of Lebanese people, including soldiers. Meanwhile, the Association of Public Administration Employees announced plans for a strike Friday to coincide with a scheduled parliamentary session. The association said in a statement that a public employee’s “salary is no longer sufficient for his minimum living requirements.”
As foreign currency reserves in the country continue to shrink, putting the future of import subsidies in doubt, the Economy Ministry has raised the cost of subsidized bread for the third time this year. Large bread bundles will cost LL2,500, as they did before, but the minimum size of a bundle will shrink from 930 to 870 grams, a 6.9 percent price hike per gram. The maximum price for small bundles will decrease from LL1,750 to LL1,500, but the minimum weight will also decrease, from 450 to 385 grams, resulting in about the same price per gram.