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Protests mar Lebanon for 6th consecutive day

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Beirut | October 23, 2019 6:41:33 AM IST
Thousands of protesters gathered for the sixth consecutive day in downtown Beirut on Tuesday (local time), despite sweeping economic reform measures announced by prime minister Saad Hariri a day earlier, and called for the government to resign.

Chants of "Peacefully! Peacefully! This is a peaceful revolution!" reverberated Lebanese capital's Riyad al-Solh square a day after Prime Minister Saad Hariri announced a package of reforms that included a 50-per cent reduction in salary for politicians and the establishment of an anti-corruption panel, Al Jazeera reported.

Protesters said they would like to see power handed over to a transitional council made up of judges with no political affiliation until elections are held.

Behind the square, which has been the centre of protests since last week, barbed wire blocked the path to the Grand Serail, the headquarters of the prime minister.

On the barbed wire, protesters hooked pieces of paper with messages scrawled: "We want to take back our money that was stolen" and "No for a sectarian system", highlighting the anger against government corruption and sectarian political system.

Lebanon's sectarian political system for years has failed to offer a solution to the dire economic situation facing the country - with high youth unemployment, high cost of living and record public debt.

Dima, a 19-year-old student was quoted as saying that the public has lost trust in government officials and doesn't expect the "thieves" to succumb to protesters' demands so quickly.

The Lebanese government's plan to impose new taxes on tobacco, petrol and WhatsApp calls sparked the Mediterranean country's biggest protests in years, spreading from Beirut to the southern cities of Tripoli and Tyre.

The government hurriedly reversed its new tax proposals but public anger spilled on to the streets as people were already upset with austerity budget passed in July.

The demonstrations have unified Lebanon's various sects, with Shia, Sunni, Christians and Druze protesting side-by-side faced with an economic collapse.

On Monday, Hariri announced a reform package in an attempt to quell the public anger.

Among the list of reforms is a 50 per cent reduction in the salaries of current and former officials, drafting a law that seeks to restore public funds and abolishing several state institutions.

It also asked the central bank and private banks to contribute USD 3.3 billion to achieve a "near-zero deficit" for the 2020 budget. At around USD 86 bn, Lebanon's public debt is more than 150 per cent of gross domestic product.

But protesters say the proposed reform package does not address their concerns and they have lost all trust in their leaders. (ANI)

 
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