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General strike brings Lebanon to standstill

Buses block a road in Beirut during a general strike. -- AFP
Buses block a road in Beirut during a general strike. -- AFP

BEIRUT - A general strike by public transportation and labour unions paralyzed Lebanon Thursday as the country suffers one of the world's worst economic crises.

Major roads were blocked by drivers who used their buses and taxis to close major roads in the capital and all across the country, paralysing business. Shops, banks and businesses were closed across the capital and streets were deserted.

Taxi and truck drivers used their vehicles to block roads to protest a sharp increase in fuel prices as the government lifted subsidies. They are demanding getting subsidized fuel again.

In the capital of Beirut, many roads were blocked by giant trash bins and vehicles.

The move comes as the country’s ruling class has done almost nothing to try to pull the country out of its meltdown, rooted in decades of corruption and mismanagement.

The political class that has run the small nation of 6 million people, including 1 million Syrian refugees, since the 1975-90 civil war is resisting reforms demanded by the international community.

About 80% of people in Lebanon live in poverty after the Lebanese pound lost more than 90% of its value. Lebanon’s economy shrank 20.3 in 2020 and about 7% last year, according to the World Bank.

Human Rights Watch said in its World Report 2022 released on Thursday that “the corrupt and incompetent Lebanese authorities have deliberately” plunged the country into one of the worst economic crises in modern times, demonstrating a disregard for the rights of the population.

It called for the international community to use “every tool at its disposal to pressure Lebanese policymakers to put in place the reforms necessary to pull Lebanon out of this crisis,” said Aya Majzoub, Lebanon researcher at Human Rights Watch. She added that they should include imposing sanctions against leaders responsible for the “ongoing grave human rights violations.” Protesters block Lebanon's roads to protest economic crash, soaring prices The Lebanese pound, which was freely exchanged in shops and banks at 1,500 to the dollar until the crisis erupted in 2019, has crumbled and was trading on the unofficial market on Thursday at about 31,500.

A once comfortable middle class salary can now barely feed a family.

"The rise in the exchange rate ... caused very big problems. It made the Lebanese hungry, it made all citizens poor, citizens can't afford filling up with fuel anymore. People can't afford buying bread or food. Where are we heading?" said Fadi Abou Chakra, spokesman for Lebanon’s fuel stations union.

President Michel Aoun has been trying to galvanise the multiple sectarian factions to hold a national dialogue conference, but talks this week so far only drew support from close allies. Some opponents said such a conference should wait until after a May parliamentary election. -- dpa/Reuters

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