BEIRUT (AP) — Dozens of Lebanese protesters tried to storm the Ministry of Energy on Tuesday, angered by prolonged power cuts as the country grapples with a crippling economic crisis.
Security forces pushed back against the angry protesters, chasing away some who breached the ministry perimeter. Scuffles ensued as protesters pushed the metal barricade and said they plan to set up a sit-in at the ministry.
“We came today and we will stay” said an unnamed protester who read a statement to the media, adding that they will liberate the ministry “from corruption […] and the management that plunged this country into darkness.”
Lebanon’s economic and financial crisis poses the most significant threat to the country since a devastating 15-year civil war ended in 1990. The highly-indebted government is facing a rapid inflation, soaring unemployment and poverty, made worse by the coronavirus pandemic.
Amid the crisis, recurrent power outage worsened as the government failed to secure essential energy sources.
Lebanon has largely relied on fuel shipped in from neighboring countries and imported diesel for the powerful generators cartel that provides for the incomplete national grid, in shambles since the end of the war. For decades, the country struggled with power cuts and a huge public debt for the national electricity company that racks up a deficit of nearly two billion US dollars a year.
But the rationing increased since June, and became so severe that residents reported only a couple of hours of electricity per day in some areas. Generator providers shut down their machines to ration existing fuel and raised prices because of a plunging national currency. Lebanese turned to traditional kerosene lamps and candles while hospitals warned their fuel stock was running out.
Lebanon’s problems are rooted in years of mismanagement and corruption. Nationwide protests that erupted last October subsided amid restrictions over the coronavirus pandemic and widening troubles.
But limited protests have recently returned, particularly since prolonged power cuts in the summer heat.
“We want to send a message that we are not leaving here until there is electricity” all day, said Ali Daher, another protester.
Image: Lebanese citizens look at a gas station worker, center, fills gasoline on their jerry can to power their home generator while the power remains shut off about 20 hours a day, in Beirut, Lebanon, Wednesday, July 29, 2020. Lebanon is hurtling toward a tipping point at an alarming speed, driven by financial ruin, collapsing institutions, hyperinflation and rapidly rising poverty — with a pandemic on top of that. The collapse threatens to break a nation seen as a model of diversity and resilience in the Arab world. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla)