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Fri 26 Jun 2020 09:24 AM

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Lebanon president warns against unrest as economy crumbles

Lebanon has entered talks with the International Monetary Fund, hoping to secure billions of dollars in aid to boost its tanking economy

Lebanon president warns against unrest as economy crumbles
Lebanese anti-government protesters block part of the main highway with their cars in Beirut on January 14, 2020. 

Lebanon's president Michel Aoun warned against any attempt to destabilise "security and the street", after angry protests over the country's worst economic crisis in decades.

"Civil peace is a red line, and... it is everyone's responsibility," Aoun said at the presidential palace in Baabda.

The president was speaking at a national meeting that was boycotted by opposition leaders including several Christian political party heads and former premiers, such as Sunni Muslim ex-prime minister Saad Hariri.

Those who did not attend criticised the current leadership's performance, and said priority should be on swift reforms to save a crumbling economy that has sparked protests.

In several nights of unrest two weeks ago, young men defaced shop facades and clashed with police after the Lebanese pound hit a new low on the black market.

"What happened in the street in recent weeks... has to be a warning to all of us to beware of the security dangers opening the way to strife under the pretext of social demands," Aoun said.

Lebanon has entered talks with the International Monetary Fund, hoping to secure billions of dollars in aid to boost its tanking economy.

"No rescue is possible if some continue to tamper with security and the street, foment sectarian feelings," and hamper progress, he said.

Many in recent days have criticised Aoun and the government's handling of the crisis, as the Lebanese currency slid to a record low of 6,000 pounds to the dollar on the black market, compared to the official peg of 1,507.

Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea said Wednesday he would not attend the Baabda meeting.

"The only solution is for the ruling group to leave and step aside to let others save the country," he said.

Former cabinet heads in a statement Monday called the meeting in Baabda a "waste of time" when the country really needed "different approaches to lift it out of the severe crisis".

'Theatrical performance'

"Lebanese today only care about one thing: How much is the exchange rate?" Prime Minister Hassan Diab said during the meeting.

"They don't care what we say. They just care what we will do."

Dozens protested on the road leading up to the presidential palace, where security forces were deployed in force.

Demonstrators criticised government inaction over alleged undue force against protesters and sectarian slogans during protests across the nation in recent months.

People online mocked the meeting.

"Economic collapse, the banking sector crumbling... the pound hitting the floor, dire poverty and coronavirus. The solution? A meeting in Baabda to call for civil peace," one person said on Twitter.

Another wrote: "What is this theatrical performance?"

The economic crisis has caused tens of thousands to lose jobs or income, and has plunged 45 percent of the population into poverty.

In October, unprecedented nationwide protests erupted to demand the wholesale removal of the political class, accusing it of ineptitude and corruption.

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