Cash-strapped Lebanese drivers block roads in ‘day of rage’ | Business and Economy News
Lebanese transport unions are calling on the government to subsidize their fuel prices and provide cash assistance.
Beirut, Lebanon – Truck and bus drivers across Lebanon blocked roads and highways with their vehicles, urging the government to help them cope with soaring fuel prices.
Lebanese transport unions on Thursday called for a “day of rage” to bring the country to a standstill and pressure authorities to subsidize fuel prices and provide financial compensation to help cope with rising traffic. expenses.
“We are destroyed,” bus driver Ali Al Jaroosh told Al Jazeera as he blocked an intersection near downtown Beirut. “We are paid in lire [Lebanese pound] but cover our cost in dollars.
Last September, land transport union leader Bassam Tleis said Prime Minister Najib Mikati had promised the government would meet their demands and compensate them.
But Mikati’s bailout government has not met since October and has been unable to implement financial reforms to unlock billions in international aid.
It also continues to struggle to keep the local currency from skyrocketing – the Lebanese pound has lost around 95% of its value in just over two years as it continues to depreciate rapidly.
At one of the roadblocks, Tleis told reporters that protests would continue until their demands were met.
Alfred Hokayem, a 56-year-old truck driver, was among a dozen people blocking the otherwise busy Dawra highway on the outskirts of Beirut.
“Today is a warning,” Hokayem told Al Jazeera. “It will intensify. We’re going to riot.
Public transport drivers are particularly struggling to cope with soaring fuel prices, as the Central Bank continues to gradually lift subsidies since last summer to ration the country’s dwindling foreign exchange reserves.
Fueling up now costs more than the monthly minimum wage which is worth around $20.
Food inflation in Lebanon is among the highest in the world, topping 557% last fall, according to the United Nations World Food Programme.
On top of that, widespread blackouts since last summer have forced households to pay excessive costs to private generator providers, often higher than rents for their own homes.
“The government needs to stabilize the dollar so that we can eat and live,” van driver Mehdi Ismail told Al Jazeera. “How can we fill our fuel tanks and feed our children? »
Inflation in Lebanon is also hurting other sectors. On Thursday, fuel distributors refused to unload the cargo until prices were adjusted to the devalued Lebanese pound. The Economy Ministry also increased bread prices.
The International Monetary Fund will hold a virtual meeting with the Lebanese government on Monday as negotiations continue for a bailout package.