Lebanese Pound Sinks to New Low, Citizens Riot in Support of Resigning Prime Minister

The Lebanese pound sank to a new low of 23,400 to the dollar on the black market Friday as citizens rioted in support of resigning Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri, the Associated Press reported.

Hariri stepped down over disagreements with President Michel Aoun over the shape of the Cabinet. Hariri did not name anyone to take over in his place. Hundreds of his supporters took to the streets to riot, blocking major roads and hurling stones.

Aoun was expected to call for consultations with heads of parliamentary blocs, the AP said. Whoever has the most support will be tasked with forming a new Cabinet.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below:

Lebanese Citizens Riot in Support of Hariri
Demonstrators spray the shields of riot police during a protest by the families of the Beirut blast victims outside the residence of Lebanon's Interior Minister in the Qoraitem neighbourhood of western Beirut on July 13, 2021. Hundreds of citizens took to the streets in support of resigning Prime Minister Saad Hariri. Getty Images

Seeking to stabilize Lebanon after a series of crises, France, the European Union and the U.S. on Friday called on Lebanese politicians to urgently form a Cabinet and planned an international conference to support the effort.

"All concerned parties need to work with urgency to put in place a government that's able to implement reforms immediately," tweeted U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

In the U.S., the Biden administration expressed disappointment that Lebanese political leaders have squandered the last nine months since Hariri was named.

The EU's foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, said Lebanese leaders are responsible for solving "the current domestic, self-made crisis," adding that it is urgent to form a new cabinet quickly. He said that an agreement with the International Monetary Fund remains essential to rescue the country from financial collapse.

"Lebanon's stability and prosperity are crucial for the whole region and for Europe," Borrell said in a statement.

France, once Lebanon's colonial ruler, has been urging Lebanese political leaders to quickly form a government whose job will be to implemented badly needed reforms and fight corruption that has brought Lebanon to near bankruptcy.

France's Foreign Affairs Ministry said the latest development confirms the political deadlock 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 that there is now "an absolute urgency to come out of this organized and unacceptable obstruction." It added that France, with the support of the United Nations, was calling an international conference August 4.

The date marks the first anniversary of a massive explosion at Beirut's port that killed more than 200, wounded over 6,000 and damaged entire neighborhoods in the capital. The blast was caused by the ignition of hundreds of tons of ammonium nitrate, a highly explosive fertilizer that had been stored for years there with the knowledge of top government officials.

Lebanon has been without a full-functioning government since the Cabinet of Prime Minister Hassan Diab resigned days after the blast.

Since the blast, French President Emmanuel Macron visited Lebanon twice and urged Lebanese politicians to quickly form a Cabinet to implement reforms. Earlier this week, a French minister visiting Lebanon said Paris will soon begin imposing sanctions on politicians blocking the formation of a government.

France hosted an economic conference for Lebanon in April 2018 that promised investments and loans worth billions of dollars in return for reforms. The funds were never released as the political class blamed for decades of corruption and mismanagement continued with business as usual.

Lebanese Citizens Riot in Support of Hariri
A Lebanese soldier fires in the air to separate protesters, during a clash with supporters of Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri who stepped down on Thursday in Beirut, Lebanon, Thursday, July 15, 2021. Hariri says he is stepping down, nine months after he was named to the post by the parliament. He is citing "key differences" with the country's president, Michel Aoun. Hussein Malla/Associated Press