Demonstrators in capital Beirut protest against capital control measures taken by the Lebanese banks while the country pays back $1.5 billion Eurobond as unrest completes 43 days.

Police stand guard behind a barbed-wire fence in front of the government house in downtown Beirut, Lebanon, Thursday, November 28, 2019.
Police stand guard behind a barbed-wire fence in front of the government house in downtown Beirut, Lebanon, Thursday, November 28, 2019. (AP)

Dozens of protesters gathered in front of Lebanon's central bank in Beirut on Thursday in a protest against capital controls measures taken by the Lebanese banks.

The angry protesters destroyed the fence outside the bank while others chanted slogans accusing its governor, Riad Salameh, of being a "thief."

Antoine Daou, a protester with the crowd, called for Salameh to be held accountable for the deterioration of the Lebanese currency rate.

"The governor of the central bank bears a huge responsibility and should be held accountable and held on trial," Daou said.

"The policies that made us poor and starving are the policies that support and fund the banks. Now we see that money exchangers have dollars while the banks don't have, how is this possible?"

The protesters who have been on the streets for 43 days are demanding that the country's ruling elite be replaced, blaming them for failures in the years that followed the 1975-90 civil war.

Lebanon pays back $1.5 billion Eurobond

Meanwhile, Lebanon paid back a Eurobond worth $1.5 billion that was scheduled to mature on Thursday, a Finance Ministry official said, pacifying concerns of a first-ever default on its debt amid the worst financial crisis in three decades.

The repayment was being widely watched in Lebanon, which has one of the highest debt ratios in the world, standing at $86 billion or 150 percent of the GDP.

There were concerns that Lebanon, which always paid back its debt on time, might default.

Lebanon has in recent weeks imposed unprecedented capital controls.

The Finance Ministry official, who spoke on condition of anonymity in line with regulations, gave no further details about the repayment.

Local media and analysts said the payment was made from the reserves of the Central Bank.

"This is a positive message to international ratings agencies and lenders that Lebanon did not default in the past and will not default in 2020," said economist Ghazi Wazni. 

He added that Eurobonds worth $2.5 billion are scheduled to mature next year, the first payments will come in March and it will be worth $1.3 billion.

Meanwhile, the office of Lebanon’s president, Michel Aoun, said he discussed political and economic conditions with visiting Arab League assistant secretary-general, Hossam Zaki. 

Aoun has not set a date for binding consultations with heads of parliamentary blocs to name a new premier. Hariri, who was Aoun's and the Hezbollah's favourite to lead a new cabinet, withdrew his candidacy on Tuesday.

The protests have remained overwhelmingly peaceful, resorting to road closures and other tactics in an effort to pressure politicians into responding to their demands.

But in recent days, scuffles broke out in Beirut and other areas between protesters and Aoun and Hezbollah supporters, leaving dozens of people injured. As tempers flare, there are real concerns Lebanon could be sliding toward a prolonged period of instability.

TRT World spoke with Hisham Jaber, head of Middle East Center for Studies and Political Research, to discuss ongoing protests.

Arab support 

"The current situation cannot take conditions and counter-conditions. We should all work together to get out of the crisis in what serves the interest of the Lebanese people," Aoun said in comments released by his office on Thursday. 

He added that Arab support "should be translated into actual steps regarding assistance to improve the deteriorating economic conditions."

Zaki told reporters there must be a solution for the cabinet formation crisis, adding that "it is important so that Lebanon avoids negative effects on its economic conditions and civil peace."

Source: AP