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Lebanon PM says rioters should face tough response

Last Updated Jun 15, 2020 at 12:44 pm EDT

A police officer directs a water cannon to extinguish a shop that was set on fire by protesters during an anti-government protest in Beirut, Lebanon, early Friday, June 12, 2020. Lebanon's prime minister held an emergency Cabinet meeting Friday, hours after demonstrators shut roads across the country with burning tires in renewed nationwide protests spurred by a plunging national currency and economic crisis. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla)

BEIRUT — Lebanon’s prime minister on Monday said there should be a tough response to the riots that have erupted in different parts of the country in recent days, saying they were “organized acts of sabotage” and not linked to protests fueled by a worsening economic crisis.

Hassan Diab spoke at a meeting of the country’s top political and security officials to discuss the rioting, which has caused damage to public and private property.

On Thursday and Friday, rallies spurred by a dramatic collapse of the local currency against the dollar degenerated into violence, mainly in the capital, Beirut, and the northern city of Tripoli, Lebanon’s second largest. Some of the rioting has taken on a sectarian tone, raising fears in the tiny country that fought a devastating 1975-1990 civil war.

Diab said a firm decision should be taken to stop all acts of violence and to detain those involved.

“What is happening in the country is not normal,” Diab said. He suggested an organized effort, “whether internal or external,” to endanger the country’s security, without providing evidence.

“What is happening carries many dangerous messages,” Diab said. “Thugs are roaming the streets and destroying the country and its institutions while the state is watching.”

President Michel Aoun, who headed the meeting, said the riots “are not acceptable anymore” and that security agencies should take preemptive measures.

One of the most serious attacks occurred on Friday night in downtown Beirut, when dozens of young men on motorcycles caused extensive damage to shops and set a local bank branch on fire.

On Monday, Interior Minister Mohammed Fahmi issued an order banning motorcycles in downtown Beirut between 5 p.m. and 6 a.m.

The Lebanese currency, pegged to the dollar for more than 20 years, has lost 60% of its value in recent weeks. Despite efforts to halt the slide, the Lebanese pound sold for more than 6,000 to the dollar on Thursday on the black market, down from 4,000 days before.

The dramatic collapse last week deepened public despair over the already troubled economy. Lebanon is heavily dependent on imports, and the dollar and local currency have been used interchangeably for years.

On Monday, the central bank began pumping dollars into the market to ease pressure on the pound. The dollar was selling on the black market for 4,500 pounds.

The Associated Press

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