A nationwide general strike has been called across Lebanon for Monday as protests, demanding an end to economic woes and perceived government corruption, are set to continue for a fifth day.
Protests have grown steadily across the country since people took to the streets on Thursday in response to a proposed tax on WhatsApp calls and other messaging services.
Here are the latest updates:
Monday, October 21
HRW: reforms to address protest unrest ‘falls short’
Lama Fakih, the director of the Crisis and Conflict Division at Human Rights Watch, warned on Monday that there is a “trust and accountability deficit” in Lebanon due to “the government’s perennial failure to hold officials and other perpetrators to account despite credible allegations of abuse and misconduct”.
Fakih, citing a history of alleged human rights abuses, added that protesters are right to doubt the government’s promised reforms unless there is a “genuine commitment to accountability for abuses”.
Banks to stay closed on Tuesday
Banks in Lebanon will remain closed on Tuesday, according to a statement from the Lebanese banking association, circulated on the National News Agency.
The statement said the association was waiting for calm to be restored.
On Monday, banks, schools and local businesses were shuttered as protests entered their fifth day.
Protests continue after reforms announced
Protesters gathered in the main Martyr’s Square and throughout Beirut listened to Prime Minister Hariri’s announcement on loud speakers.
“Revolution, revolution,” chanted many of those gathered when he finished, according to the AFP news agency.
“We want the fall of the regime,” they continued.
Maya Mhana, a teacher, listened to the speech in central Beirut with other protesters.
“We are remaining in the streets, we don’t believe a single word he said,” Mhana told the Associated Press news agency.
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Protesters say reforms are not enough
The raft of reforms announced by Prime Minister Hariri did not go far enough for some protesters on Monday.
They also call for:
- The resignation of the government, who they accuse of widespread corruption.
- Handing over power to a council of non-political judges until elections can be held.
Cabinet approves reforms following five days of protests
Lebanon approved reforms and the 2020 budget following five days of protests, Prime Minister Hariri announced on Monday.
The reforms and budget include:
- Cutting the salaries of some current and former presidents, ministers, and lawmakers in half.
- Abolishing several state institutions, including the Ministry of Information.
- Passing a law to establish an anti-corruption committee by the end of the year.
- Drafting a law that seeks to restore stolen public funds.
- Appointing regulatory bodies for the power sector, telecommunications, and civil aviation “as soon as possible”.
- Creating no new taxes in 2020 budget.
- Slashing the budget of the agency in charge of development and construction by 70 percent, along with cutting the budget of other state bodies.
- Reducing by $663mn the deficit in the power sector, which bleeds state funds while failing to meet the country’s needs.
- Speeding up the process of awarding contracts for the construction of new power plants.
- Planning to approve, within three weeks, the first phase of a capital investment programme that donors have pledged to finance with $11 billion, on condition of reforms
- Moving to privatise telecommunications.
- Setting up scanners at border crossings to combat smuggling and toughening punishments for smugglers.
- Approving social security benefits for seniors by the end of the year.
- Providing an additional $13.3mn to a program that supports poor families.
- Providing $160 million to back housing loans.
- Increasing tax on bank profits, as part of a plan of having banks aid in a deficit reduction of about $3.4bn.
- Launching investment projects for the northern and southern entrances of the capital Beirut.
The government had convened on Monday for about five hours to approve the reform package.
Most of the reforms had been agreed to early in the day, but a debate over issues relating reform in the power sector delayed the announcement.
Lebanon to cut ministers’ pay in bid to ease protester rage
Lebanon’s cabinet is expected to halve ministers’ wages among other reforms.
The package of moves includes a 50 percent cut in the salaries of current and former presidents, ministers and politicians, and benefit cuts for state institutions and officials, officials told Reuters news agency.
It further provides for the central bank and private banks to contribute $3.3bn to achieve a “near-zero deficit” for the 2020 budget.
Protesters have said this would not be enough to send them home, demanding the politicians they accuse of rampant corruption to step down.
Lebanon’s president decries protesters ‘generalising’ fraud accusations
President Michel Aoun said it was unfair to tarnish everyone with corruption allegations, adding that banking secrecy should be lifted from the accounts of current and future ministers.
“What is happening in the streets expresses people’s pain, but generalising corruption [charges] against everyone carries big injustice,” he said.
Lebanon has strict rules over bank account privacy that critics say makes the country susceptible to money laundering.
A chorus of voices, from union leaders to politicians, has joined calls for Prime Minister Hariri’s government to resign.
Volunteers clean streets after massive protest
Lebanese protesters are back on the streets, but this time to scoop up demonstration debris in downtown Beirut.
People responded to a general call on social media to clean up the streets and squares that were occupied by tens of thousands on Sunday night.
“This is not organised by organisations or NGOs, it was a personal initiative,” said volunteer Sandra Chaoul.
“Some people sent messages yesterday on Instagram asking people who want to volunteer to come at 8am and we answered the call.”
Protesters begin final countdown as 72-hour deadline comes to close
Protesters across Lebanon have been counting down the hours after Prime Minister Hariri gave his cabinet a 72-hour deadline on Friday to agree reform plans, hinting he might otherwise resign.
The deadline expires on Monday evening.
Lebanese president’s son-in-law joins protesters
Lebanese member of parliament and son-in-law of President Aoun, Shamil Roukoz, has joined demonstrators in Matn, a district in Mount Lebanon.
Videos published by Lebanese media showed Roukouz greeted with applause and carried on the shoulders of other protesters.
President Aoun: Protests show ‘people’s pain’
Lebanon’s President Aoun said protests gripping the country showed “people’s pain” but that accusing all politicians of corruption equally was not fair.
Aoun added that the government must at least start by lifting banking secrecy from current and future ministers, his office said in a tweet.
“What is happening in the streets expresses people’s pain, but generalising corruption [charges] against everyone carries big injustice,” he said during a cabinet session.
Lebanon cabinet session begins at presidential palace
Lebanon’s cabinet has convened, headed by President Aoun at the Baabda Palace, as protests grip the country in the biggest show of dissent against the ruling elite in decades.
The government is expected to approve reforms including halving ministers’ wages in a bid to ease an economic crisis and defuse protests that have brought hundreds of thousands of people to the streets for four days.
— حديث المدينة (@citytalksnews) October 21, 2019
Aoun’s son-in-law General Chamel Rouko joins protests
Officials told Reuters news agency on Sunday that Prime Minister Saad Hariri had agreed to a package of reforms with his government partners to tackle the crisis that has driven hundreds of thousands of protesters into the streets. Lebanon dollar bonds tumble as protests spread
Lebanon’s government bonds tumbled by one cent or more after fierce protests over the country’s economic crisis had spread on Sunday ahead of a cabinet meeting on speeding up reforms.
The sovereign’s 2025 issue tumbled 1.34 cents in the dollar to trade at 65.5 cents, Tradeweb data showed, taking the bond’s two-day losses to nearly four cents.
Four days of protests have been the biggest show of dissent in decades against the country’s ruling elite which is strained by claims of corruption and cronyism. On Sunday, PM Hariri agreed to a package of reforms with government partners.
Lebanon denies rumors about president’s health
Lebanon on Monday denied rumors that President Michel Aoun’s health was deteriorating.
In a statement, the presidential press office called for caution against the “lies” by some circles trying to create conflict during a sensitive period for the country, without elaborating.
SOURCE: AL JAZEERA AND NEWS AGENCIES