Brawls in shops as Lebanon’s financial meltdown hits supply of food

By Maha El Dahan and Ellen Francis

BEIRUT (Reuters) – The collapse of Lebanon’s currency has forced many grocery shops to temporarily shut within the last 24 hours, raising fears that a country reliant on imports could soon face shortages of food.

Food shops around the country were locking their doors, halting online deliveries or restricting customers’ orders. Others stayed open, but could not say for how long.

“There’s a big possibility we will close if it stays like this. I don’t know where will we get supplies, and no one is helping us,” said Beirut grocer Mohieldin Fayed, who has kept his shop open.

The pound tumbled to 15,000 to the dollar on Tuesday, losing a third of its value in the last two weeks. It has now sunk by 90% since late 2019.

“If this persists, things will start to disappear, traders will prioritize what to get,” said Hani Bohsali, head of the foodstuffs importers syndicate. “We’ll have to buy less, in variety and quantity, because we can’t find the money.”

He estimated the country has roughly two months of supplies, while it was getting more and more difficult for importers to obtain the dollars they need to keep buying.

The economy’s collapse has pushed much of the population into poverty and poses the biggest threat to stability since the 1975-1990 civil war.

Social media users have been sharing videos of supermarket brawls, such as a fight between a man and a woman trying to buy powdered milk. Prices of many consumer goods such as diapers or cereals have nearly tripled during the crisis.

Nabil Fahed, head of the syndicate of supermarket owners, said some of the shops that had shut on Tuesday reopened on Wednesday after replenishing stocks. But he said permanent closures would happen if no exchange stability was reached.

“What we’re afraid of is that these eventually turn from temporary closures … that it becomes final because it is a dire situation, their capital is being eroded and they don’t have money to pay for goods.”

The vice president of Lebanon’s bakeries’ syndicate said bakeries were supplying the country with bread for now, but could not do so indefinitely without a solution. Lebanon imports almost all of its wheat.

“If we continue at this pace, in the end we will reach a forced closure until the exchange rate stabilizes,” Ali Ibrahim, who tried to resign from his position two weeks ago because of the dire situation, said in a statement.


Many shops in Lebanon were already shut because of the coronavirus pandemic, and streets have also been closed by roadblocks during anti-government demonstrations. But until this week, groceries had mostly stayed open. Many have been offering deliveries online.

On Tuesday, a number of online grocery shops disappeared from apps. Others refused to accept orders.

Lebanon’s central bank has drawn on already critical foreign reserves to subsidize three key commodities – wheat, fuel and medicine – and a basket of other basic goods, as dollars inflows dried up. It has provided hard currency to importers at the old peg of 1,500 Lebanese pounds to the dollar.

But the state, fast running out of cash, has signaled multiple times that the subsidies would soon be lifted, although it has yet to give a timeline or announce a plan.

Supermarket syndicate head Fahed said the central bank was often slow to release dollars to food importers, causing shortages which in turn provoke consumers to hoard goods. In one example, he said a supermarket had sold a typical month’s stock of 5,000 gallons of subsidized cooking oil in only five hours.

The looming removal of subsidies has triggered fears of shortages, said Nasser Saidi, an economist and former cabinet minister.

“As soon as you announce that subsidies might be lifted or reduced…automatically consumers hoard goods,” he said.

(Reporting By Maha El Dahan, Ellen Francis, Imad Creidi and Alaa Kanaan; Writing by Maha El Dahan; Editing by Peter Graff)

Brawls in Turkish Parliament delay legislation on EU migrant deal

Ruling AK Party and pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) lawmakers scuffle during a debate at the Parliament in Ankara

By Gulsen Solaker

ANKARA (Reuters) – Brawls between lawmakers from Turkey’s ruling AK Party and the pro-Kurdish opposition have delayed efforts to pass legislation on a migration deal with the European Union, but the country’s EU minister said a deadline next week would still be met.

Deputies threw punches, pushed and tried to restrain each other in the assembly late on Wednesday in a row over military operations targeting Kurdish militants in Turkey’s largely Kurdish southeast.

The acting speaker announced at the end of Wednesday’s session that, following these scuffles, the parliament would now not meet again in full session until Monday.

Lawmakers had been expected to work on Friday and Saturday on legislation needed for Turks to secure visa-free travel to Europe, a key part of Ankara’s deal with the European Union on stopping uncontrolled migration to Europe.

Brussels aims to propose waiving visas for Turks on May 4 but that is strongly opposed by some EU member states. The EU has said Turkey fully meets fewer than half of the 72 criteria and that its conditions will not be softened.

“If the security surveillance law had been completed last night, as of today Turkey would have done what is required,” EU Affairs Minister Volkan Bozkir told broadcaster NTV.

“The 10 or so remaining articles … will God willing be passed on Monday. But we can effectively say it’s done. After that the 72 expectations are met from our perspective.”

Bozkir said he expected the EU Commission to recommend the lifting of visas for Turks in a report next week.

Under the deal with the EU, Turkey agreed to take back migrants who cross to Greece illegally in return for financial aid, the prospect of accelerated EU accession talks and quicker visa-free travel to Europe for Turks.

The fierce exchanges erupted in parliament after MP Ferhat Encu from the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) referred to the killing of civilians in military operations against Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) militants.

Thousands of militants and hundreds of security force members and civilians have been killed since the PKK resumed its insurgency in the southeast last summer after a 2-1/2-year ceasefire, shattering a peace process.

While the general assembly was shut, there were scuffles again on Thursday during a meeting of a constitutional commission which was discussing legislation on lifting lawmakers’ immunity from prosecution.

President Tayyip Erdogan accuses the HDP of being an extension of the PKK and has said members of parliament with links to militants should be prosecuted. Around half of some 550 requests to lift deputies’ immunity are aimed at HDP members.

The PKK, designated a terrorist group by Turkey and its Western allies, launched an insurgency in the southeast in 1984 and more than 40,000 people have been killed in the conflict.

(Additional reporting by Tulay Karadeniz; Writing by Daren Butler; Editing by Nick Tattersall and Raissa Kasolowsky)