BEIRUT (AP) – Tension intensified in Lebanon on Friday, with riots leaving more than two dozen injured in the northern city of Tripoli, including five soldiers who were attacked with a hand grenade.
Meanwhile, France, the European Union and the United States have called on Lebanese politicians to urgently form a cabinet and have scheduled an international conference to help stabilize Lebanon after a series of crises.
“All parties concerned must work urgently to put in place a government capable of implementing reforms immediately,” tweeted US Secretary of State Antony Blinken.
The announcements came at a time of great uncertainty for Lebanon following the resignation of Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri on Thursday due to disagreements with the president over the form of the cabinet. Hariri did not support anyone else to take the post. Hundreds of his supporters revolted in the streets, blocked major highways and threw stones.
On Friday morning, the Lebanese pound hit a new low, hitting 23,400 per dollar on the black market.
President Michel Aoun was to call for consultations with the heads of parliamentary blocs; whoever gets the most support will be invited to work on the formation of a new Cabinet.
In Beirut, demonstrators briefly closed several main roads on Friday, prompting a rapid intervention by troops to clear them. Protesters also closed the main highway connecting Beirut to southern Lebanon.
In the northern Lebanese city of Tripoli, Lebanon’s second largest and most impoverished, residents anger at rising prices, power cuts that last most of the day and severe shortages of electricity. diesel and drugs, revolted in the streets and attacked Lebanese troops.
The Lebanese Red Cross said its paramedics took 19 wounded to hospital. The Lebanese army said 10 soldiers were injured by stones thrown by protesters while five others were injured in an attack with a hand grenade. It was not immediately clear who threw the grenade.
The Biden administration has expressed disappointment that Lebanese political leaders have squandered the past nine months since Hariri was appointed prime minister-designate.
EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said Lebanese leaders are responsible for resolving “the current, self-made internal crisis”, adding that there is an urgent need to quickly form a new cabinet. He said an agreement with the International Monetary Fund remains essential to save Lebanon from financial collapse.
“Lebanon’s stability and prosperity are crucial for the whole region and for Europe,” Borrell said in a statement.
France, once the colonial ruler of Lebanon, has urged Lebanese political leaders to quickly form a government to implement much-needed reforms and tackle the corruption that has brought Lebanon to the brink of bankruptcy.
France’s foreign ministry said the latest developments confirm the political stalemate in which “Lebanese leaders have deliberately held the country back for months, even as it sinks into an unprecedented economic and social crisis.”
The ministry said there is now “an absolute urgency to get out of this organized and unacceptable obstruction.” France, with the support of the United Nations, has convened an international conference for August 4, he added.
This date marks the first anniversary of a massive explosion in the port of Beirut that left more than 200 dead, more than 6,000 injured and damaged entire districts of the city. The explosion was caused by the ignition of hundreds of tons of ammonium nitrate, a highly explosive fertilizer that had been stored for years in the port to the knowledge of senior government officials.
Lebanon has been without a full government since the office of Prime Minister Hassan Diab resigned a few days after the explosion.
Since the explosion, French President Emmanuel Macron has visited Lebanon twice, urging politicians to quickly form a cabinet to implement reforms. France will also soon start imposing sanctions on Lebanese politicians blocking the formation of a government.
France hosted an economic conference for Lebanon in April 2018 that pledged investments and loans worth billions in return for reforms. The funds were never released as the Lebanese political class, which has been blamed for decades of corruption and mismanagement, continued as if nothing had happened.
Associated Press editors Angela Charlton in Paris and Raf Casert in Brussels contributed to this report.