Lebanon paralyzed by nationwide tax protests

Clay Curtis
October 18, 2019

On Thursday, the government announced a new daily tax for calls made via voice-over-internet-protocol (Voip), which is used by apps including WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger and Apple's FaceTime.

The education ministry said schools would close on Friday after the protests.

"We are here for the future of our kids".

Thousands of protesters gathered outside the government headquarters in central Beirut on Thursday evening, as protesters chanted "the people want the downfall of the regime", during the largest protests the country has witnessed in years.

The tension has been building for months, as the government searched for new ways to levy taxes to manage the country's economic crisis and soaring debt.

The Lebanese government has backtracked on plans to tax WhatsApp calls as protests rage over the government's handling of an economic crisis.

Some protesters threw stones, shoes and water bottles at security forces and scuffled with police.

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But it scrapped the plans hours later amid clashes between security forces and protesters. Protesters were also hurt.

The government has proposed austerity measures and tax hikes to balance the country's budget, fuelling the rage of citizens who already accuse politicians of corruption and mismanagement.

According to Al Nahar, President Michel Aoun held a phone call with Hariri, and the two men agreed to hold a government session at the Presidential Palace on Friday. He was expected to address the nation later in the day.

The protests have increased pressure on Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri, who heads a fractious coalition government that has struggled to overcome sectarian and political differences to push through much-needed reforms.

Years of regional turmoil - worsened by an influx of 1.5 million Syrian refugees since 2011 - are catching up with Lebanon. Lebanon's debt, $86 billion, equals more than 150% of its gross domestic product.

Global donors have been demanding that Lebanon implement economic changes in order to get loans and grants pledged at the CEDRE economic conference in Paris in April 2018. Global donors pledged $11bn for Lebanon but they sought to ensure the money was well spent in the corruption-plagued country.

The economic stakes have rarely been higher for Lebanon, a tiny country that straddles the geopolitical fault-lines of the Middle East, since the end of the 15-year civil war in 1990.

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