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Lebanese President calls for PM to step aside as food shortages start to bite

LEBANESE President Michel Aoun told Prime Minster-designate Saad Hariri to form a new government or resign in a televised address on Wednesday evening as the country’s economic crisis deepens.

The Lebanese pound has lost nearly 90 per cent of its value on the informal market in the past 18 months and sank to a new low against the dollar on the black market on Tuesday.

The exchange rate soared from 10,000 Lebanese pounds to the dollar on March 2 to around 15,000, losing a third of its value in the space of a week.

Supermarkets have been forced to close early with some shutting their doors for 24 hours as supplies start to run low. 

Video footage has been circulating showing people fighting over groceries with head of the foodstuffs importers syndicate Hani Bohsali estimating the country has two months of supplies left.

Lebanon has been in political deadlock since the government of Hassan Diab resigned in the wake of the Beirut port explosion last August in which at least 200 people were killed.

His cabinet has stayed on in a caretaker role but politicians have been unable to form a government since Mr Hariri was nominated as prime minister in October.

“If Prime Minister-designate Hariri finds himself unable to form a government … he should make way for those who are,” Mr Aoun said in a message broadcast on state television.

“My call is determined and truthful to the prime minister-designate to choose immediately one of the two choices, as silence is not an option after today,” he added.

Anti-government protests have flared up again after having died down due to the coronavirus pandemic. They started in October 2019, sparked by an increase in taxes on the WhatsApp messenger service.

Streets have been blocked in major cities including Tyre and the capital Beirut as people demand real and meaningful political change and an end to the deepening economic crisis.

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