lebanon army gas crisis fuel station sidon
Lebanese army soldiers inspect a gas station, as fuel crisis worsens, in Sidon, Lebanon August 14, 2021. Image Credit: Reuters

Cairo: Angry motorists Saturday cut off several roads in the crisis-beleaguered country protesting against a severe fuel shortage and economic deterioration, local media reported.

Drivers blocked a main road and lay on the ground in the Mount Lebanon region in west Lebanon after they had spent the night outside a fuel station to fill up their cars, but the station refused to sell petrol.

The protest resulted in traffic congestion, prompting army troops to intervene in an attempt to reopen the road, LBCI television reported.

Lebanon’s army Saturday raided gas stations and seized petrol to curb hoarding as the central bank chief stood firm on his decision to halt fuel subsidies.

Road blockages were also reported in Sidon in south Lebanon where protesters demanded fuel to be made available at subsidised prices.

Last week, Governor of the Lebanese central bank Riad Salameh announced lifting subsidies on fuel, stoking fears of further prices in the country that is experiencing its worst economic crisis in decades.

As the country’s hard currency crunch bites, the Lebanese say it is increasingly hard to have access to subsidised food and medicine supplies. Lebanon is also experiencing power outages, prompting increasing reliance on private generators.

In an interview broadcast Saturday, Salameh said that fuel subsidy has depleted the country’s foreign currency reserves. “Around 800 million dollars were spent last month on imports. The figure should have been enough for three months,” he was quoted as saying.

Lebanon garbage bins protest fuel crisis
Garbage bins placed by protesters block a road, as fuel crisis worsens, in Beirut, Lebanon August 14, 2021. Image Credit: Reuters

International pressure has mounted on Lebanon’s political leaders to introduce badly needed reforms since a massive explosion hit the Beirut Port in August 2020, killing at least 200 people and devastated parts of the city. Donors have linked their financial support to the country to reforms.

Lebanon has failed to form a government for months due to political rivalries.

Crippling shortages of fuel and power cuts lasting more than 22 hours per day have left many businesses and homes without the diesel needed to power private generators, plunging the country into darkness.

They have also caused giant queues at petrol stations that are rationing gasoline supply, allegedly because of low stock.

Fuel importers blame the crisis on a delay by the central bank in opening credit lines to fund imports.

Salameh denied those charges on Saturday, accusing importers and distributors of holding back fuel to sell it higher prices in the black market, or across the border in Syria.

“The importers are to blame,” Salameh said, accusing them of squandering $820 million the lender had fronted for three months of imports.

To stem hoarding, the army on Saturday said it was raiding closed gas stations to seize gasoline and distribute it “free of charge” to the people.

It shared pictures and video footage on its social media pages showing soldiers working pumps at gas stations and filling up car tanks.

Video footage posted online showed motorists cheering as the army raided gas stations.

But some Lebanese remained bitter.

“The army’s decision is too late,” said one motorist who had been waiting for hours in the simmering heat, AFP reported.

After the army’s deployment, many petrol stations across the country reopened after closing for several days.

The police also announced Saturday they would dispatch patrols to gas stations believed to be hoarding fuel and confiscate it.

- with inputs from AFP