Protesters chant slogans during a demonstration near the EU headquarter in Beirut, Lebanon, on Friday. Associated Press
Angry Lebanese blocked main roads on Friday as petrol stations across the country went on strike for the second day in a row, an AFP photographer and local media said.
Filling station owners announced the walkout from Thursday over mounting losses due to a dollar liquidity crunch.
More than a month into unprecedented anti-government protests, Lebanon is facing a dual political and economic crisis.
In Beirut and several other major cities on Friday, drivers briefly stopped their cars in the afternoon, blocking some main roads, the national news agency and the AFP photographer said.
In the capital, most stations had closed their pumps and blocked off their entrances with a barrier or yellow tape, but a handful had remained open, the photographer said.
Clutching empty one-gallon (four-litre) bottles, dozens clustered around pumps in the few still operating to fill up on fuel.
“My motorbike ran out of petrol, and I’ve been waiting outside the petrol station for three hours in vain,” Yahya al-Shami said as he queued up for his fill in the capital’s Cola neighbourhood.
“People are very worried because they all need petrol to work,” he told AFP.
“The station is opening for half an hour, then closing again because all the drivers are fighting amongst each other as they wait.” On local television, a woman complained she had to abandon her car in the middle of the road as she looked for petrol.
“I’ve been to ten different stations looking for gas and I haven’t found any,” she said.
The Lebanese pound is pegged at around 1,500 pounds to the dollar, and both are used interchangeably in everyday transactions.
But banks in Lebanon have been rationing dollar withdrawals, forcing those in need to resort to money-changers and pushing the unofficial exchange rate above 2,000 pounds to the greenback.
The central bank last month said it would help fuel importers with access to the dollar at the lower official exchange rate.
But petrol stations say they are making losses because they are forced to buy dollars at the higher rate to pay importers demanding the foreign currency.
The government stepped down on October 29, less than two weeks after the first demonstration, but the country’s deeply divided political parties have failed to form a new one.
The protesters have demanded a new technocratic cabinet made up of independent experts, rather than representatives of the country’s traditional political parties divided along sectarian lines.
Lebanon’s president is heading a meeting of the country’s top economic officials as the Mediterranean nation slides deeper into a financial crisis.
Nationwide protests that began Oct.17 over widespread corruption and mismanagement have worsened Lebanon’s worst economic and financial crisis in three decades so did the resignation of the government late last month.
Friday’s meeting is being attended by the ministers of economy and finance as well as Central Bank administrators and the head of the banking association.
Lebanon is one of the world’s highest indebted countries and the country’s banking sector has imposed unprecedented capital control amid a widespread shortage of dollars.
The price of the dollar dropped 40 per cent on the black market after it was stable at 1,507 pounds to the dollar since 1997.
A financial crisis in Lebanon has hit the economy of neighbouring Syria hard, choking off a vital source of dollars and dragging the Syrian pound to record lows.
Shut out of the global financial system by Western sanctions, Syria’s economy has depended on banking ties to Lebanon to keep business and commerce running during the country’s more than eight-year-old war.
But as Lebanese banks impose tight controls on hard currency withdrawals and transfers abroad, wealthy Syrians have found their funds inaccessible. The flow of dollars to Syria from Lebanon has all but stopped, according to three businessmen and five bankers in Damascus and abroad.