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The Lebanese army was called to step in and rein in armed protests sparked by plans to increase fuel prices.
Protests erupted in the troubled country at the start of this week after the energy ministry said it would hike prices at the pump on Tuesday. Lebanon is in the throes of a major economic crisis that has led to fuel and power shortages, AFP reported.
Then, on Tuesday, the Lebanese energy ministry announced a massive increase in fuel prices—at 35 percent—after saying last week it would slash fuel subsidies to ease the burden of a plunging national currency on its foreign exchange reserves.
The move comes at a bad time, right as the world was seeing a rally in commodity prices, adding further fuel the price fire in Lebanon.
The move is expected to help government finances and stop the bleeding of foreign currency reserves. But it is a severe blow to consumers in Lebanon, who have been grappling with a plunge of the local currency in addition to the fuel shortages--even before the gasoline and diesel price hikes.
As a result, according to AFP correspondents on the ground, protesters have been blocking roads and burning tires and garbage bins in Beirut. Also in Beirut, drivers formed long queues at gas stations to stock up on fuel before the price hike entered into effect, Middle Eastern Eye reported.
In Tripoli, however, the protesters went further, firing guns into the air, according to the Middle Eastern Eye report, in a bid to force shop owners to join the protest and close their shops. Also, according to unconfirmed reports from the ground, protesters tried to storm two banks.
The army stepped in, which led to clashes in which some 20 people were reportedly injured. According to AFP reports, some protesters set fire to the entrance of a government office and others tried to force their way into the homes of two politicians.
Lebanon is struggling with one of the worst crises in recent memory as well as with forming a new government.
The country is the only nation in the Middle East and Central Asia region where activity is expected to contract further, “reflecting the deep economic and financial crisis that has been worsened by the pandemic’s second wave,” the International Monetary Fund (IMF) said in its April 2021 regional outlook
By Charles Kennedy for Oilprice.com
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Charles is a writer for Oilprice.com