Protesters in Lebanon insisted on Tuesday they will stay in the streets for a sixth day even after the government approved an unprecedented package of economic reforms.
The protesters have declared a general strike, sending a clear signal they reject the measures Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s government agreed upon on Monday.
Among the reforms is a 50-percent reduction in salary for former and current politicians and ministers; the abolishment of the Ministry of Information and a number of other state institutions; and the establishment of an anti-corruption panel.
Hariri also vowed that no new taxes would be imposed – but for many protesters it is too little, too late.
The protests – Lebanon’s biggest in years – broke out on Thursday over the cash-strapped government’s plans to impose new taxes, but have since widened into calls for the country’s entire political class to step down.
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The Taif Accord, signed in October 22, 1988, sought to end sectarian violence during Lebanon’s bloody civil war, which raged from 1975 to 1990.
The agreement attempted to create more equality in Lebanon’s sectarian government, in which parliamentary seats and government roles are allocated by religious group.
It also called for the government to eventually phase out the sectarian system all together.
Protesters say the day has come to end the system and create laws that allow technocrats, not sectarian leaders, to take control of the government.
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Banks in Lebanon will remain shut on Wednesday, in preparation for more protests, the Association of Banks in Lebanon (ABL) said in a statement on Tuesday.
The banks are “waiting for the general situation to stabilise in the country”, ABL said during the sixth day of protests.
Demonstrators had again gathered in the capital Beirut on Tuesday, chanting “Peacefully! Peacefully! This is a peaceful revolution!” as they called for systemic change and an end to the country’s sectarian government.
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Hariri’s office cited the country’s UN coordinator Jan Kubis as saying several foreign governments backed the government reforms announced a day earlier.
On Tuesday, the prime ministers met ambassadors from the United States, Russia, China, the European Union and the Arab league, among others, the office said.
The diplomats urged the government to address the demands of protesters, refrain from using violence against them, and work to curb corruption, the office said.
Lebanon expects foreign donors to react positively to reforms it has agreed, and wants to show it is serious about cutting the budget deficit, a top government adviser said.
“We believe the decisions will get very positive reactions. It is hoped that … Lebanon in a very short period of time will be able to restore the capacity to fund debt requirements,” Nadim Munla, Hariri’s senior adviser, said in a briefing to journalists.
Foreign donors and investors last year pledged $11 billion to help Lebanon finance a capital investment programme, as long as it enacts reforms.
Security forces attempted to persuade protesters to reopen roads across Lebanon through peaceful means, but will not use force if they refuse, a security source told Reuters news agency.
“If they are convinced, so be it, if they are not the roads will remain closed,” the source said. “We will not clash with the protesters and make a problem on the ground.”
Some roads had been reopened in the south, the source added.
Banks and schools remained shut, and the number of protesters in the morning in central Beirut and the northern city of Tripoli appeared smaller than on previous days.
Late on Monday, soldiers skirmished in Beirut with young men on motorcycles holding the flags of the powerful Shia movements Hezbollah and Amal. Both parties denied any role.
Lebanese authorities are tightening security in the capital, Beirut, amid calls for more protests, according to Al Jazeera’s Zeina Khodr.
“The Lebanese security forces are out in force, preventing protesters from blocking roads,” she said, reporting from Beirut.
However, protesters are “still defiant” and want to “keep piling pressure on the government to resign,” she said, adding: “They are accusing the security forces of trying to crush the protest movement.”
Protesters in Lebanon insisted they will stay on the streets for a sixth day even after the government approved an unprecedented package of economic reforms.
The demonstraters have declared a general strike, sending a clear signal they reject the measures Hariri’s government announced on Monday.
Among the reforms was a 50-percent reduction in salaries for former and current politicians and ministers, and a vow to not impose any new taxes.
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