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Lebanese PM blames opponents for unrest as protests enter third day

FILE PHOTO: Lebanon's Prime Minister Hassan Diab speaks during a news conference at the government palace in Beirut, Lebanon May 21, 2020. Dalati Nohra/Handout via REUTERS

BEIRUT (Reuters) - Lebanese Prime Minister Hassan Diab accused his opponents on Saturday of deepening a currency crisis and fuelling unrest as the country entered a third day of protests sparked by a sharp drop in the Lebanese pound.

Protests broke out on Thursday after the currency plunged to new lows over the past week, with rising anger over the government’s inability to contain an economic crisis that has devastated living conditions.

The pound has lost some 70% of its value since October, when the debt-saddled country was plunged into a financial crisis that has hiked prices, slashed jobs, and brought on capital controls that have frozen people out of their dollar savings.

The currency, which had hit about 5,000 to the dollar, appeared to reverse its slide on Friday after a government announcement that the central bank would inject dollars into the market on Monday.

In a televised address on Saturday, Diab said political opponents looking to thwart government efforts to investigate and crack down on corruption were stirring the latest unrest.

“Some have tried to exploit the situation again...They have thrown lies and rumours, have contributed to deepening the Lebanese pound crisis, have caused a major crisis and have pushed people onto the streets,” Diab said.

Diab, who took office in January with the backing of the powerful Iran-aligned Hezbollah, did not name the opponents.

Protesters returned to streets across Lebanon on Saturday, with demonstrations in Beirut, the northern city of Tripoli, and Sidon in the south, expressing outrage over the deteriorating conditions and many calling on the government to resign.

The renewed unrest could complicate Beirut’s ongoing talks with the International Monetary Fund over a reform programme it hopes will secure billions in financing and kickstart a recovery.

Reporting by Eric Knecht and Laila Bassam; Editing by Frances Kerry