Lebanon’s transport unions are demanding that the government subsidize their fuel prices and provide cash assistance.
Beirut, Lebanon Truck and bus drivers across Lebanon blocked roads and highways with their vehicles and urged the government to help them cope with rising fuel prices.
Lebanon’s transport unions on Thursday called for a “day of rage” to paralyze the country and pressure authorities to subsidize fuel prices and provide financial compensation to help them deal with rising spending.
“We have been destroyed,” bus driver Ali Al Jaroosh told Al Jazeera as he blocked an intersection near downtown Beirut. “We are paid in lires [Lebanese pound] but cover our costs in dollars. ”
Last September, the head of the land transport unions, Bassam Tleis, said Prime Minister Najib Mikati had promised that the government would meet their demands and compensate them.
But Mikati’s rescue government has not met since October and has not been able to implement financial reforms to unlock billions in international aid.
It also continues to struggle to keep the local currency from spiraling – the Lebanese pound has lost about 95 per cent of its value in just over two years as it continues to depreciate rapidly.
At one of the roadblocks, Tleis told reporters that protests would continue until their demands were met.
Alfred Hokayem, a 56-year-old truck driver, was among a dozen people blocking the otherwise busy Dawra highway on the outskirts of Beirut.
“Today is a warning,” Hokayem told Al Jazeera. “It will escalate. We will riot. “
Public transport managers in particular have struggled to cope with rising fuel costs as the Central Bank continues to gradually lift subsidies since last summer to ration the country’s dwindling foreign reserves.
Filling up the fuel tank now costs more than the monthly minimum wage which is worth about $ 20.
Food inflation in Lebanon is among the highest in the world, with more than 557 percent from last fall, according to the United Nations World Food Program.
In addition, unbridled power outages since last summer have forced households to pay exorbitant costs to private generator suppliers, often higher than their own rent.
“The government needs to stabilize the dollar so we can eat and live,” bus driver Mehdi Ismail told Al Jazeera. “How can we fill our tanks with fuel and feed our children?”
Inflation in Lebanon is also hurting other sectors. Fuel distributors on Thursday refused to unload cargo until prices were adjusted to the devalued Lebanese pound. The Ministry of Economy has also further increased bread prices.
The International Monetary Fund will hold a virtual meeting with the Lebanese government on Monday as negotiations for a rescue program continue.