Mon, Oct 21, 2019 - Page 4 News List

Lebanon’s key coalition partner quits amid protests

AFP, BEIRUT

Protesters wave Lebanese flags and shout anti-government slogans at a protest in front the government palace in Beirut on Saturday.

Photo: EPA-EFE

Men, women and children yesterday gathered in the Lebanese capital, Beirut, to protest corruption and tax hikes for a fourth day, after the resignation of a key Christian party rocked the country’s fragile coalition government.

Demonstrations had flared on Thursday in response to a proposed US$0.20 tax on calls via WhatsApp and other messaging services.

While the government quickly dropped the plans, the protests morphed into demands for a sweeping overhaul of Lebanon’s political system, with grievances ranging from austerity measures to poor infrastructure.

Thousands rallied across the country on Saturday, chanting “revolution” or “the people demand the fall of the regime” — a common refrain of demonstrations in other parts of the Arab world.

The protests have been largely good-natured, with people singing or launching into traditional dabke dances on Saturday, while others played cards and smoked shisha into the early hours.

In Tripoli, Lebanon’s traditionally conservative second city, the protests at points looked like a music festival, with a DJ pumping out dance music from loudspeakers.

Yesterday morning, volunteers were cleaning the streets near the parliament in Beirut, while rubbish collectors righted upturned dumpsters.

The protests have also been marked by their diversity, drawing wide swathes of Lebanese society largely united on what they oppose — with many condemning the entire political class as thieves and criminals — but so far lack a clear set of demands.

Lebanon’s political system was set up to balance power between the country’s religious sects, including Christians, Sunni Muslims, Shiite Muslims and Druze.

Many senior politicians came to prominence during the country’s 15-year civil war that ended in 1990.

Beleaguered Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri, a Sunni, had given his coalition partners until this evening to back key reforms.

However, late on Saturday, Samir Geagea, head of the Christian Lebanese Forces (LF) party, announced that his ministers were quitting the government.

“We are now convinced that the government is unable to take the necessary steps to save the situation,” Geagea said.

Other members of the government, including Shiite movement Hezbollah, are opposed to resigning.

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