Thousands Protest Across Lebanon over Dire Economy, Proposed WhatsApp Fee Withdrawn

Protesters burned tyres as hundreds of people took to the streets in anger over a move to tax calls on messaging apps

Protesters burned tyres as hundreds of people took to the streets in anger over a move to tax calls on messaging apps

Thousands of demonstrators poured into Lebanon's streets on Saturday for a third day of anti-government protests, directing growing rage at a political elite they blame for driving the country to the economic brink.

Walls of burning tires and debris effectively severed the main thoroughfares at the northern and southern entrances of Beirut and near the city of Byblos, footage aired on Lebanese television stations showed.

"We have no jobs, we have money and we have no future", one protester screamed.

Protesters smashed windows, burned tires and blocked the road to Beirut's worldwide airport to express their fury with the government's handling of the country's soaring debt.

"All of us have to shoulder the responsibility of the current situation that we arrived at", added Nasrallah, whose Iranian-backed Shia group is Lebanon's most influential.

"For months we have been waiting for our partners in the country and the government to go forward with the solution that we decided on. but there is no procrastination they haven't tried", he said.

The trigger for the protests was the news on Thursday that the government was planning, among other measures, to impose a tax on Whatsapp calls - a decision it later withdrew.

Two Syrian workers died late Thursday night when they were trapped in a shop that was set on fire by rioters during a large protest against new taxes in Downtown Beirut, Civil Defense sources said.

There have been sporadic protests in Lebanon since the summer, with participants repeating the slogan of the 2011 Arab Spring demonstrations: "The people want the fall of the regime".

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

The government is discussing the 2020 budget and new taxes have been proposed, including on tobacco, gasoline and some social media.

In an address to the nation, Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri, who leads a national unity government that includes rival Hezbollah, blamed his political opponents for blocking reforms to resolve the economic crisis and issued a 72-hour deadline for them cooperate otherwise he hinted that he may resign.

Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah said on Saturday that the group was not demanding the government's resignation amid the widespread protests.

Lebanon's public debt stands at around $86 billion - more than 150 percent of gross domestic product - according to the finance ministry.

Global donors have been demanding that Lebanon implement economic changes in order to get loans and grants pledged at an economic conference in Paris in April 2018.

Numerous country's senior politicians came to prominence during the country's 15-year civil war, which ended in 1990.

In June, the Lebanese parliament passed an austerity budget to comply with the demands of worldwide donors, who a year ago pledged $11 billion to finance a plan to revive Lebanon's economy.

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