Christian party quits Lebanon gov't amid mass protests

Elias Hubbard
October 21, 2019

This is the night before as riots broke out again on the streets of the capital Beirut.

While the government quickly dropped that plan, the leaderless protests morphed into demands for a sweeping overhaul of the political system, with grievances ranging from austerity measures to poor infrastructure.

Protesters in Lebanon returned to the streets early on Sunday, keeping pressure on Prime Minister Saad Hariri as a self-imposed deadline to deliver a package of badly needed reforms for the country's crumbling economy drew near.

"All of the leaders should be put under house arrest and be held accountable to return the money they stole from the state so Lebanon can get back on its feet", said Antoine Zahli, 43, a pharmacist who was among the protesters in downtown Beirut.

The cabinet official said the reform plan was not meant to impose further taxes, but would include privatization in some sectors.

"Cancelling taxes is not enough".

"We want to stay in Lebanon to build our future, but if these corrupt politicians stay here, what future will be left for us?"

Numerous protesters have already said they don't trust the current government's reforms, and are calling on the 30-member Cabinet to resign and be replaced by a smaller one made up of technocrats instead of members of political groups.

"They (the politicians) have been stealing from the people for 30 years", she said, referring to period after the 1975-90 civil war.

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

But critics say it entrenches political patronage and pits citizens against each other along sectarian lines.

On Sunday, protesters called out the names of some politicians, with the crowd responding with swear words.

She said she was protesting "against the hooligans who have been in power for 30 years".

On Sunday demonstrators clogged streets across the country for a fourth day with marches resembling outdoor festivals.

"I hope the government will resign and I think we are ready and the whole country is ready for something else at last", said real estate agent Fabian Ziayde. The Maronite Christian Lebanese Forces party said late Saturday its four ministers would withdraw from the government.

One of Joumblatt's ministers, Wael Abu Faour, said they are against the government resigning because a political vacuum could lead to financial collapse.

If Hariri, a Sunni Muslim who is traditionally backed by the West and Sunni Gulf Arab allies, resigned, it would be harder for the various parties that make up the ruling coalition to form a new Cabinet.

Government sources said Hariri's cabinet would meet at midday on Monday at the presidential palace to approve the reform package.

Lebanon's public debt ratio is one of the largest in the world - more than 150% of gross domestic product, or around $86 billion - according to the Finance Ministry.

It's this unusually wide cross section of society that highlights the rising anger among the Lebanese about the state of the economy.

Since Saturday, the protests have been mostly peaceful with many protesters bringing their children with them to the gatherings.

"It's time for a change", said Nazih Siraj a 50-year-old in Tripoli, adding that he was demonstrating for the future of his four daughters.

On Sunday, Lebanese overseas also gathered to demonstrate in Paris, Los Angeles and Washington.

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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