Protesters paralyze Lebanon amid political and economic crisis

BEIRUT (AP) – Protesters on Monday closed all main roads leading to the Lebanese capital, causing traffic jams and triggering an appeal from the head of the hospital union who warned that such movements were preventing the oxygen supply from reaching the medical centers treating coronavirus patients.

The days-long protests come against the backdrop of a local currency crash, rising consumer goods prices and political feuds between rival groups that have delayed the formation of a new government.

Since the early hours of the morning, small groups of protesters have blocked the southern, northern and eastern entrances to Beirut with burning tires and parking vehicles on the main roads. In other parts of Lebanon, army soldiers briefly opened some roads for protesters to close soon after.

Sleiman Haroun, president of the Syndicate of Hospitals of Lebanon, told The Associated Press that after a two-day weekend without an oxygen distribution, some hospitals are under-resourced and in urgent need of supplies, especially for treat COVID-19 patients.

“This is no joke. It is a matter of life and death,” Haroun said, urging protesters to allow vehicles carrying oxygen to pass. There are several oxygen factories all over Lebanon. and they supply hospitals across the country, including some in remote areas.

Despite a weeklong lockdown in Lebanon, coronavirus cases remain high in the small country, with 2,377 new cases recorded on Sunday, bringing the total number of cases since February last year to more than 395,000. The virus has also killed 5,047 people, including 33 on Sunday.

On Saturday, Lebanon’s Acting Prime Minister Hassan Diab warned the country was heading quickly for chaos and called on politicians to put aside their differences in order to form a new government capable of attracting desperately needed foreign aid .

In October, former Prime Minister Saad Hariri was appointed to form a new government but five months later disagreements between him and President Michel Aoun over the form of government prevented the formation of a new government.

The local currency struck on Saturday a record law against the US dollar hitting nearly 11,000 pounds on the black market.

Lebanon has been hit by one crisis after another, starting with the national protests in October 2019 which revealed a severe financial and economic crisis. The situation was made worse by the coronavirus and a massive explosion in the Port of Beirut in August that left 211 dead, more than 6,000 injured and damaged large parts of Beirut.

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