Tuesday 12 November 2019
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The News - 20 days ago

Lebanese keep up protests despite emergency measures

BEIRUT: Lebanese protesters gathered for a sixth consecutive day Tuesday, keeping the country on lockdown to demand new leaders despite the government s adoption of an emergency economic rescue plan.Demonstrations initially sparked by a proposed tax on WhatsApp and other messaging apps have grown into an unprecedented cross-sectarian street mobilisation against the political class. Rallies have spread to all major cities and into Lebanon s vast diaspora.The cabinet was spurred into passing wide-ranging economic reforms on Monday but the move failed to win over protesters, who now seem bent on removing the entire political elite, who they see as corrupt and arrogant. These mostly technical solutions may put the country on a sounder fiscal footing, but they appear inadequate to the challenge of the protests, which now demand broader, systemic change, Heiko Wimmen, analyst with the International Crisis group, said.Among the measures announced by Prime Minister Saad Hariri on Monday were a 2020 budget meant to bring the deficit down to 0.6 percent of GDP, no new taxes, a privatisation programme and measures to support the underprivileged.The country s main parties, including those of President Michel Aoun and the Shiite movement Hezbollah, have warned against the impact of a government vacuum and supported the reform package.Lebanon s economy has been sliding closer to the abyss in recent months, with public debt soaring past 150 percent of GDP and ratings agencies grading Lebanese sovereign bonds as junk. Fears of a default have compounded the worries of Lebanese citizens exasperated by the poor quality of public services.Residents typically suffer daily electricity shortages and unclean water. This protest movement is the only chance the people have, said Mounir Malaaeb, an elderly man from the southern city of Tyre who came to the capital to join the rallies.

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