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French Version

Fresh violence halts Beirut's commercial activity

Trading volume slows amid fighting in capital

Most business activities in Beirut came to a standstill on Friday as opposition gunmen took control of neighborhoods in West Beirut after two days of fighting.

Many businesses remained closed, amid fears that fighting could erupt again. Few citizens ventured out of their homes in the early morning hours to either move to safer areas or buy purchase necessities from shops.

Nadim Assi, the president of Beirut Traders Association, told The Daily Star that business owners are awaiting positive developments before deciding on a next move.

"I am optimistic that the situation will be back to normal very soon," Assi said, adding that merchants and traders are watching the unfolding developments on television just like other citizens.

Banks and companies elsewhere in the country stayed open Friday, although traffic was very light.

Traders in Achrafieh and Mount Lebanon said that the volume of business in the past two days has fallen by 60 percent because most people preferred to stay home.

The Central Bank, which is situated at the beginning of West Beirut's Hamra Street, did open for few hours Friday amid tight security precautions by units from the Lebanese Army and Internal Security Forces.

"I am relieved that the Central Bank is still looking at the welfare of bankers and businessmen despite the ugly scenes around us," one merchant said.

All bankers interviewed by The Daily Star confirmed that there was hardly any unusual demand for the US dollars, suggesting citizen confidence that the present civil disruption will be a short-term one.

They added that the Lebanese realize that politicians will return to their senses and sit together to solve all pending issues. "It is not going to be worse than the July 2006 war in Lebanon," Saad Andary, deputy general manager of Bank of Beirut and the Arab Countries, told The Daily Star Tuesday.

Though considerable capital and deposits fled the country in the first few weeks of Israel's inconclusive 34-Day 2006 bombing and shelling campaign, Lebanese banks were later able to lure back most of these.

Meanwhile, employees of Beirut Port announced that they were walking out of work to pressure the government to increase wages. The Port facility has been shut now since Tuesday. Given the closure of Rafik Hariri International Airport and difficulty facing Lebanese travelers wishing to fly from Syria, Lebanon is effectively cut off from the rest of the world.

Fadi Abboud, the president of the Lebanese Industrial Association, said that the airport closure will have a negative effect on the economy in general and delay the government's decision to raise minimum wages.

"We were hoping to export more than $3 billion of industrial goods this year," Abboud said, "but this goal has been dashed by the security events and the closure of the road to Beirut airport." He urged the country's politicians to cast their differences aside and pay more attention to the economy.

For his part Francois Bassil, the President of Association of Banks in Lebanon, expressed his anger at the political standoff and clashes in the capital.

He urged Lebanese Army Commander General Michael Sulieman to preside over a national dialogue to resolve all pending issues peacefully.

Beirut 10-05-2008
The Daily Star

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