BEIRUT: A demonstrator carries a placard which reads “Don’t blame a sinner in the time of sin, for hunger is the father of all sin” during a gathering to denounce the death of a man who committed suicide in the capital’s Hamra Street on Friday. — AFP

BEIRUT: Two suicides in Lebanon on Friday, apparently linked to the country’s deepening economic downturn, have sparked a new wave of criticism over the government’s mishandling of the crisis. A 61-year-old man from the eastern region of Hermel shot himself on the sidewalk of a bustling Beirut shopping street in broad daylight.

Near his body was a Lebanese flag, a copy of his clean judicial record and a note in Arabic that read: “I’m not a heretic”. It was a quote from a popular song that continues with the words “but hunger is heresy”. A relative of the man, who asked not to be named, accused the country’s rulers for the hardship that led to his death. “God damn them. People are suffocating.” As he spoke, rescue workers carried the body away in a white coffin and a man mopped up a pool of blood.

The Lebanese pound, officially pegged at 1,507 pounds to the greenback, reached more than 9,000 to the dollar this week on the black market in a dizzying devaluation. Prices have soared almost as fast as the exchange rate has plummeted, meaning that a salary of one million pounds is now worth a little more than $100, compared with almost $700 last year.

The suicide sparked small protests in the Hamra district, denouncing the government for its inaction over the country’s worst economic crisis since its 1975-1990 civil war. “He did not commit suicide, he was killed in cold blood,” read one sign, blaming the government. Saba Mroue, a protestor, said: “the political class is responsible”. The people are hungry, broke, miserable,” said Lina Boubes in Hamra, where people chanted against the government and banks that have frozen people out of their savings. “They took our dreams, our money, our bread,” she said. “And they sit in their castles and they still oppress us.”

A second suicide, by a van driver near the southern city of Sidon, was also apparently linked to the economic crisis, a local official said. The 37-year-old van driver hung himself in his home in the town of Jadra and his body was found on Friday morning, said municipality head Joseph Al-Azzi. The official said the suicide was linked to the economic crisis, saying the man was struggling financially.

A spokesperson for Lebanon’s Internal Security Forces confirmed the two suicides, saying that suicide rates are up this year, although he could not provide figures. Jad Chaaban, an economist and anti-government activist, described the suicides as a “murder by a ruling class that is prepared to kill us, starve us and impoverish us so that they can guard their interests”. – Agencies