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24.10.2019 Middle East

Lebanon anti-government protests enter second week

Omar Ibrahim/Reuters
LISTEN OCT 24, 2019
Omar Ibrahim/Reuters

Nationwide protests in Lebanon have entered a second week, with demonstrators defying the army with roadblocks, demanding a complete overhaul of the political system. France and other countries are calling on the government to reform, to address what it sees as legitimate concerns by the protesters.

On Thursday morning demonstrators set up roadblocks around the capital, Beirut. Protests have crippled Beirut and other major cities, but have largely been peaceful and cheerful, turning into night-time celebrations.

The army deployed in the streets on Wednesday, sparking fears of the kinds of clashes seen during the first two days of the demonstrations.

The protests started on 17 October, after a proposed tax on calls made through messaging apps. They have since become cross-sectarian street mobilisation against a political system that is seen as corrupt and broken.

Protesters are asking for a new political system and an end to corruption, as well as voicing more personal political grievances.

Political deadlock has halted any efforts to tackle economic problems in a country where more than a quarter of the population lives in poverty, according to the World Bank. Problems are compounded by the years-long civil war raging in neighbouring Syria.

France has urged Lebanon to carry out reforms laid out in an April 2018 donor's conference, which would unlock billions of euros in financing pledged by Western donor countries and lending institutions.

Putting into place reforms and financing projects would "re-establish the Lebanese economy and public services, for the direct benefit of all Lebanese citizens," said the foreign ministry in a statement.

On Wednesday, the United States said it supported the right of protesters to demonstrate peacefully for what it called "legitimate" grievances.

Prime Minister Saad Hariri has presented a package of reforms, including cutting minster salaries, but the demonstrations have continued. Leaders are discussing a possible government. President Michel Aoun is expected to break his silence later Thursday.

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