Protests over taxes threaten Lebanon's political establishment

Cheryl Sanders
October 18, 2019

Roads leading to Beirut's worldwide airport were also closed by the protesters, forcing travelers to leave the airport on foot as they pulled their suitcases past protest sites in search for transportation.

All schools, universities and banks across the country are closed Friday on government orders in anticipation of further protests.

But it scrapped the plans hours later amid clashes between security forces and protesters.

In Beirut, several thousands of people marched near the government's Serail headquarters chanting "the people want the downfall of the regime".

Two foreign workers choked to death from a fire that spread to a building near the protests in Beirut, the NNA said.

The cabinet was due to meet at the presidential palace in Baabda to discuss the 2020 state budget before the weekend, but Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri cancelled the meeting early on Friday.

The protests could plunge Lebanon into a political crisis with unpredictable repercussions for the economy, which has been in steady decline.

The demonstrations, which began on Thursday evening, were sparked when the government announced plans for new taxes, including on voice calls made through messaging applications including WhatsApp.

Interior minister Raya al-Hassan insisted Mr Hariri would not resign, saying that could spark a national crisis more unsafe than the current economic troubles.

Al Jazeera's Alexi O'Brien reports.

Protests quickly escalated into some of the largest the country had seen since the uprising over a garbage crisis in 2015, with thousands holding demonstrations across the country.

The protests have been fuelled by stagnant economic conditions exacerbated by a financial crisis in one of the world's most heavily indebted states. Unemployment among those aged under 35 runs at 37 percent.

The financial crunch has added to the impetus for reform but the government's steps have yet to convince foreign donors who have offered billions in financial assistance conditional on changes.

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