Lebanon Protest: Man Sets Himself On Fire

Lebanon is on the verge of economic collapse amid political paralysis and an ongoing protest movement.

 

A man in Lebanon tried to self-immolate during a protest in Beirut on Saturday, the Lebanese Red Cross said, before protesters extinguished the flames.

Protesters in Riad al-Solh Square smothered the flames with jackets and blankets, an AFP photographer said.

The man, who did not lose consciousness, was evacuated in a Red Cross ambulance.

“A man set fire to himself, a Lebanese Red Cross team intervened,” the organisation wrote on Twitter.

The official ANI news agency reported that a man in his forties had doused himself in petrol before setting himself alight.

While the reason for his action was not known, Lebanon is on the verge of economic collapse amid political paralysis and an ongoing protest movement.

On Saturday, dozens gathered in the central Riad al-Solh Square for another demonstration against the country’s ruling elite.

Protests began on October 17, mobilising hundreds of thousands of Lebanese demanding an end to corruption and incompetent leadership.

Lebanon’s financial situation, already precarious before the protests, has deteriorated markedly since. In recent weeks, thousands of people have lost their jobs or had their salaries slashed.

Several cases of suicide have been reported in recent days, with financial difficulties believed to be a motivating factor.

In February, a Lebanese man died from severe burns after setting himself on fire at his daughter’s school over a fee dispute with the management.

The World Bank has warned of an impending recession that may see the proportion of people living in poverty climb from a third to half the population.

Unemployment, already above 30 per cent for young people, would also increase, it has said.

Outgoing Prime Minister Saad Hariri asked Arab and Western allies for financial help on Friday.

An $11 billion (10 billion euro) aid package pledged at a conference dubbed CEDRE in Paris in April 2018 has not been unlocked by donors for lack of reform.

 

AFP

Russian Strikes Kill Nine Civilians In Syria

An aerial view shows residents gathered around a building destroyed by a reported Russian airstrike on the village al-Barra in the southern countryside of Syria’s northern Idlib province on November 15, 2019.

 

Airstrikes by Syrian regime ally Russia on Sunday killed nine civilians in the jihadist-run enclave of Idlib in the northwest of the country, a war monitor said.

Five of the victims died in the village of Al-Malaja in southern Idlib province while the other four were killed in raids on the town of Saraqeb in the east, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

A number of people were wounded, some seriously, the monitor’s head Rami Abdel Rahman told AFP, though he was unable to say how many.

The Idlib region, home to around three million people including many displaced by Syria’s eight-year civil war, is controlled by the country’s former Al-Qaeda affiliate.

The Hayat Tahrir al-Sham jihadist alliance also controls parts of neighbouring Aleppo and Latakia provinces.

The region is one of the last holdouts of opposition to forces of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

A ceasefire announced by Russia has largely held since late August.

But the Observatory says 48 civilians — including 16 children — have been killed in Russian air strikes on the region since the start of November.

The Britain-based monitor, which relies on sources inside Syria, says it determines who carries out an air strike according to flight patterns, as well as aircraft and the munitions involved.

Last month Assad said Idlib was standing in the way of an end to the civil war that has ravaged his country.

Syria’s conflict has killed 370,000 people and displaced millions since beginning in 2011 with the brutal repression of anti-Assad protests.

Lebanon Pupils Skip School For Third Day To Demand Change

Lebanese demonstrators wave the national flag during an anti-government demonstration outside the Ministry of Interior in the capital Beirut on November 8, 2019. 
Patrick BAZ / AFP

 

Thousands of high school students across Lebanon skipped classes Friday for a third day in a row to carry on the flame of the country’s anti-graft movement.

Lebanon has since October 17 been gripped by massive cross-sectarian protests demanding a complete revamping of a political system they say is corrupt and inept.

With youth unemployment running at over 30 per cent, school students have joined en masse since Wednesday demanding a better country so they don’t have to emigrate.

In Beirut, a teenage student who gave her name as Qamar was among thousands of pupils chanting slogans outside the ministry of education on Friday.

“So what if we lose a school year compared to our entire future?” she said. “I don’t want to study in Lebanon and then have to travel abroad” to find a job.

Around her, students waved red-green-and-white Lebanese flags, as others set off yellow, green, blue and purple flares into the sky.

“We missed classes to kick your asses,” read one poster in English.

Another poster in rhyming Arabic said: “No studying or teaching, until the president falls.”

Across Lebanon, students protested outside state institutions and banks including in the southern city of Saida, Tripoli in the north and the east’s Baalbek.

What started as a spontaneous and leaderless movement has become more organised in recent days, with protesters targeting institutions viewed as particularly inefficient or corrupt.

Early Friday, dozens of activists and retired army officers for the first time briefly closed down the entrance to Beirut’s port.

Among them, music producer Zeid Hamdan, 43, had come to denounce what he viewed as a customs collection system riddled with corruption.

“As a musician whenever I bring an instrument into the country, I pay 40 per cent of it” to customs, he said, sporting a light beard and wearing sunglasses.

“It stays stuck in the port for weeks. You need connections, to bribe everybody to get it out,” he said.

Lebanon’s cabinet stepped down last week but no official consultations have started on forming a new government, and outgoing premier Saad Hariri remains in a caretaker capacity.

The World Bank has urged Lebanon to form a new government quickly, warning of the threat of a further economic downturn in a country where almost a third of the population lives in poverty.

Hundreds Skip School In Lebanon To Press For Change

Lebanese students wave national flags as they gather in an anti-government demonstration in the southern city of Sidon on November 6, 2019. PHOTO: MAHMOUD ZAYYAT / AFP

 

Hundreds of schoolchildren led anti-government demonstrations across Lebanon on Wednesday, refusing to return to class before the demands of a nearly three-week-old protest movement are met.

In the capital Beirut, dozens gathered in front of the education ministry, brandishing Lebanese flags and chanting slogans demanding the removal of a political class seen as incompetent and corrupt.

“What will I do with a school leaver’s certificate if I don’t have a country,” one pupil told Lebanese television.

In the largest pupil-led protest, crowds streamed into a central square in the southern city of Sidon, demanding better public education and more job opportunities for school leavers, the state-run National News Agency (NNA) reported.

In a school in the resort town of Jounieh, just north of the capital, pupils mobilised against school governors accusing them of banning particpation in the protests.

Other pupil-led protests took place in the southern cities of Tyre and Nabatieh, the eastern city of Zahleh and the northern city of Byblos, according to NNA and other Lebanese media reports.

But demonstrators, who have kept up their protests since October 17, were not blocking key roads on Wednesday morning.

Banks were open and classes resumed at most schools after a two-week gap.

But demonstrators gathered around key state institutions for a second day in a row, in what appears to be a new tactic replacing road closures.

The most significant in the capital was around the Palace of Justice, where hundreds demanded an independent judiciary and an end to political interference, an AFP correspondent reported.

“We don’t want judges who receive orders,” read one placard held aloft by the crowd.

A smaller group of protesters gathered near the central bank, accusing it of aggravating the country’s economic crisis.

Pressure from the street prompted Prime Minister Saad Hariri to resign last week. He remains in his post in a caretaker capacity while rival politicians haggle over the make-up of a new government.

The protesters have expressed mounting frustration with the slow pace of the coalition talks.

AFP

Moody’s Downgrades Protest-Hit Lebanon

Moody's Predicts 2.5% GDP Growth For Nigeria

 

Moody’s ratings agency on Tuesday downgraded Lebanon’s sovereign debt, saying sweeping anti-government protests had hit investor confidence and threatened marco-economic stability.

“The downgrade to Caa2 (from Caa1) reflects the increased likelihood of a debt rescheduling or (other measures) that may constitute a default,” it said.

The agency had already flagged three months ago that it was considering downgrading the country’s debt.

Since then, it said Tuesday, “Lebanon’s economic, social and political crisis has further intensified”, threatening to drag growth below zero and “further stoking social discontent”.

“Widespread social protests, the resignation of the government and loss of investor confidence have further undermined Lebanon’s traditional funding model,” it said.

That threatens the viability of the Lebanese pound’s peg to the US dollar and the country’s macroeconomic stability, it said.

Nationwide street rallies have gripped Lebanon since October 17, demanding a complete overhaul of a political system deemed inefficient and corrupt.

The movement forced the government to resign last week and has left much of Lebanon in lockdown, with protesters blocking major roads.

Even before the protests launched on October 17, growth in Lebanon had plummeted in the wake of repeated political deadlocks in recent years, compounded by the war in Syria.

Public debt stood at more than $86 billion, or higher than 150 percent of GDP, according to the finance ministry.

In August, Fitch bumped Lebanon down to “CCC”, while Standard & Poor’s kept it at “B-/B” with a negative outlook.

Roads Blocked In Lebanon As Protests Enter Third Week

Lebanese police officers scuffle with an anti-government protester who was trying to stop a police bus carrying detainees as security forces dismantle a roadblock in the centre of the Lebanese capital Beirut on October 31, 2019. PHOTO: PATRICK BAZ / AFP

 

Demonstrators kept up their roadblocks across Lebanon on Thursday, as their unprecedented protest movement demanding systemic political change entered its third week.  

Traffic came to a standstill on major highways, as protesters erected metal barricades.

They waved through security and medical personnel, in a scene that has become routine since a proposed tax on calls via messaging apps first drew protesters onto the streets on October 17.

“I don’t want to stand down,” said Tarek Madhoun, 38, who was blocking a road in central Beirut.

The protest movement has swelled into a popular drive to remove a political elite which has remained largely unchanged since a devastating civil war ended three decades ago.

Lebanese protesters carry mattresses used during anti-governmental demonstrations in the centre of the capital Beirut on October 30, 2019. PHOTO: AFP

 

Euphoric protesters experiencing a rare moment of national unity have pilloried politicians of all parties, calling for better public services, an end to rampant corruption and a complete overhaul of Lebanon’s sectarian-based politics.

Bowing to street pressure, Prime Minister Saad Hariri submitted his government’s resignation on Tuesday.

The announcement led to an easing of the two-week-old lockdown, with some main roads briefly reopening.

Banks had been due to reopen on Friday but protesters stayed on the streets, keen to use one of the only forms of leverage they have to press their demands.

“They thought our demands ended when the government resigned,” said Ghadi, 21, from central Beirut.

“But we still have many more demands… including a technocratic and independent government, a new electoral law and a new parliament.”

Embattled President Michel Aoun is due to deliver a speech at 8:00 pm (1800 GMT) marking the third anniversary of his election as head of state.

On Wednesday, Aoun promised a “clean government”, saying the protest movement “paved the way for big reforms”.

Forming a government in Lebanon can take months, with every sectarian and party leader seeking to protect their own communal interests.

AFP

Lebanon: Two Weeks Of Protests Force PM To Resign

Lebanon’s Prime Minister Saad Hariri walks to the podium to announce the resignation of his government in the capital Beirut on October 29, 2019. DALATI AND NOHRA / AFP

 

Lebanon has been gripped by unprecedented anti-government and anti-austerity protests for nearly two weeks, pushing Prime Minister Saad Hariri to announce sweeping economic reforms then offer to resign on Tuesday.

Here is a recap:

 Apps tax anger 

Demonstrations erupt on October 17, just hours after the government announces a tax on calls made via messaging services like WhatsApp.

Thousands take to the streets in the capital Beirut and the cities of Sidon and Tripoli, some chanting “the people demand the fall of the regime”.

There are clashes near government headquarters in Beirut, as demonstrators try to storm the building.

Security forces say around 40 of their members are wounded. They fire tear gas to try to disperse crowds.

Hundreds of protestors also block major highways and set refuse bins and tyres alight.

The government scraps the messaging app tax later the same day.

 Demos grow 

On October 18, thousands of demonstrators from a broad spectrum of sects and political affiliations bring the capital to standstill.

They demand an overhaul of the political system, citing grievances from austerity measures to poor infrastructure.

Hariri gives his coalition government partners three days to support a reform drive.

The army reopens some highways and fires tear gas and water cannons to disperse a huge crowd in Beirut’s central Riad al-Solh Square, a main rallying point.

Security forces say 70 protesters are arrested.

The demonstrations swell over the following days, with major gatherings also in second city Tripoli and other locations across the country.

 Reforms announced 

On October 19, the Maronite Christian Lebanese Forces party pull its four ministers from the cabinet.

On October 21, Hariri announces his government has approved a raft of economic reforms, including halving salaries of lawmakers and ministers.

But the protests continue, with demonstrators dismissing the new measures as insufficient and a desperate move by the political class to save their jobs.

Hezbollah calls in supporters 

On October 25, the head of the powerful Shiite movement Hezbollah, which with its allies holds the majority in parliament, tells his supporters to not take part in the protests.

“We do not support the resignation of the government,” Hassan Nasrallah says.

On October 26, loyalists of Hezbollah mobilise counter-demonstrations across the country, sparking scuffles with demonstrators.

Its ally the Free Patriotic Movement also stages separate smaller rallies supporting its founder, President Michel Aoun.

But Hezbollah faces pressure, with protests breaking out in some of its strongholds, an unprecedented development in the politically fractured country.

Also on October 26, at least six civilians are reportedly wounded when soldiers confront protestors trying to block a road near Tripoli.

The following day, tens of thousands of protesters form a 170-kilometre (105-mile) chain across the country to symbolise national unity.

Resignation 

On October 29, dozens of counter-demonstrators descend on Riad al-Solh Square and attack anti-government protesters, torching tents and tearing down banners that call for “revolution”.

Less than an hour later, Hariri announces in a televised address that he will submit his and his cabinet’s resignation to Aoun later in the evening.

Lebanese PM’s Resignation Makes Crisis ‘Even More Serious’ – France

Lebanese security forces keep watch following confrontations between demonstrators and counter-protesters in the centre of the capital Beirut during the 13th day of anti-government protests on October 29, 2019.  Anwar AMRO / AFP

 

The resignation of Lebanon’s government in response to nearly two weeks of countrywide protests has made the crisis there “even more serious,” France’s foreign minister said Tuesday.

“Prime Minister (Saad) Hariri has just resigned, which makes the crisis even more serious,” Jean-Yves Le Drian told parliament in Paris, and urged the authorities in Lebanon “to do everything they can to guarantee the stability of the institutions and the unity of Lebanon.”

Hariri earlier announced he was submitting the resignation of his government, bowing to rising public pressure. His televised statement was met with cheers from crowds of protesters demanding change.

Le Drian said a condition for stability in any country “is a willingness to listen to the voice and demands of the population”.

“Lebanon needs a commitment from all political leaders to look within themselves and make sure there is a strong response to the population,” said the minister, offering France’s help.

A nationwide protest movement has gripped Lebanon for almost two weeks, calling for an overhaul of a political class viewed as incompetent and corrupt.

AFP

Lebanon PM Hariri To Resign Over Protests

Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri gives an address at the government headquarters in the centre of the capital Beirut.  Marwan TAHTAH / AFP

 

Lebanon’s embattled prime minister Tuesday said he would submit his resignation to the president, bowing to pressure from a mass protest movement that has crippled the country for nearly two weeks.

“It has become necessary for us to make a great shock to fix the crisis. I am going to the Baabda Palace to give my resignation,” Saad Hariri said in a televised speech.

Hariri said his decision was “in response to the will of many Lebanese who have taken to the streets to demand change” in what he called “historic” protests.

“Posts come and go, what matters is the safety and dignity of the people,” Hariri said.

It is unusual for a prime minister to announce his cabinet’s resignation before holding talks at the presidential palace in Baabda.

The sudden resignation — the third by Hariri in his career — will restart the complicated task of parliament forming a new government if it is accepted by the president.

It would also mark the most significant win by demonstrators who have thronged the streets of the country since October 17 demanding political change.

After the announcement, the main protest square in central Beirut erupted into applause, less than a hour after counter-demonstrators ravaged the site and attacked protesters.

“Saad Hariri is only the beginning,” said one protester shown on local television.

“We will continue” until others resign, he added.

The nationwide cross-sectarian protest movement is calling for an overhaul of a political class viewed as incompetent and corrupt.

Lebanon’s political leaders have appeared shell-shocked, trying simultaneously to express sympathy for the largely peaceful protests while warning of chaos in case of a power vacuum.

In a bid to appease the protests, Hariri had announced a package of economic reforms aimed at reviving an economy that has been on the brink of collapse for months.

But the protesters have accused the political elite of desperately attempting to save their jobs and have stuck to their demands for deep, systemic change.

AFP

Pope Calls For Dialogue In Lebanon Following Protests

 

Pope Francis urged dialogue in Lebanon Sunday after days of sweeping protests against the political class, urging the country to respect “dignity and freedom”.

Tension has mounted in recent days between security forces and protesters, who are blocking roads and bringing Lebanon to a standstill to press their demands for a complete overhaul of the political system.

“I would like to address a special thought to the dear Lebanese people, in particular to the young who… have made their cries heard in the face of the social and economic challenges and problems of the country,” Pope Francis said.

“I urge everyone to seek the right solutions in the way of dialogue,” he said after the Angelus prayer in Saint Peter’s Square.

He said he hoped that “with the support of the international community, that country may continue to be a space for peaceful coexistence and respect for the dignity and freedom of every person, to benefit of the entire Middle East”.

The protesters — who have thronged Lebanese towns and cities since October 17 — are demanding the removal of the entire political class, accusing politicians of all stripes of systematic corruption.

Lebanon To Tax Calls On Messaging Apps

 

Lebanon on Thursday announced a new tax on internet calls made through messaging applications, a move meant to boost the cash-strapped state’s revenues but which sparked widespread user outrage.

Information Minister Jamal Jarrah on Thursday said that users will be charged a 20 cent fee for each call made through messaging applications such as WhatsApp and Viber.

The decision approved by cabinet on Wednesday will go into effect on January 1, 2020, he told reporters after a cabinet session, adding that the move will bring $200 million into the government’s coffers.

Jarrah did not provide more details but Lebanese digital rights group SMEX said the country’s main mobile operators are already planning to introduce new technology that will allow them to detect whether users are trying to make internet calls using their networks.

“Lebanon already has some of the highest mobile prices in the region,” SMEX said on Twitter.

The latest policy “will force users to pay for internet services twice,” it added.

TechGeek365, another digital rights group, said it contacted WhatsApp and Facebook regarding the matter.

“A spokesperson mentioned that if the decision is taken, it would be a direct violation of their ToS (terms of service),” it said.

“Profiting from any specific functionality within WhatsApp is illegal,” it added on Twitter.

But SMEX said that the 20 cent fee would be “a condition of data plans” offered by mobile operators.

“Also, Facebook previously complied with a social media tax in Uganda, which is effectively the same thing,” it said on Twitter.

The latest policy is part of a series of austerity measures being introduced by the government in an attempt to rescue the country’s ailing economy and secure $11 billion in aid pledged by international donors last year.

Growth in Lebanon has plummeted in the wake of repeated political deadlocks in recent years, compounded by the impact of eight years of war in neighbouring Syria.

Lebanon’s public debt stands at around $86 billion — higher than 150 percent of GDP — according to the finance ministry.

Eighty percent of that figure is owed to Lebanon’s central bank and local banks.

In July, parliament passed its 2019 budget, which is expected to trim Lebanon’s deficit to 7.59 percent of GDP — a nearly 4-point drop from the previous year.

AFP

Lebanon Asks Neighbours For Help To Fight Forest Fires

A tree burns in a forest near the village of Meshref in Lebanon’s Shouf mountains, southeast of the capital Beirut, on October 15, 2019.  JOSEPH EID / AFP

 

Lebanon has turned to its neighbours for help battling forest fires that have ravaged homes and killed a volunteer firefighter in the Mediterranean country, its premier said on Tuesday.

Heavy rain fell on parts of the country including Beirut in the evening, after Cyprus dispatched help and as Greece and Jordan vowed to follow suit.

“We have contacted the Europeans who will send means of help,” Prime Minister Saad Hariri said earlier in comments carried by national news agency NNA.

Dozens of blazes have hit Lebanon in recent days, fire chief Raymond Khattar told NNA, amid unusually high temperatures and strong winds.

Thick smoke had been seen drifting over the outskirts of Beirut, the mountainous Chouf region to its southeast, and the southern city of Saida.

In the Chouf, an area famed for its forests, a volunteer firefighter lost his life trying to put out the flames, his family said.

In an area south of Beirut, firefighters have for two days been unable to stop the blaze, which has burnt four homes to the ground and caused dozens to suffer breathing difficulties, NNA said.

Interior Minister Raya El-Hassan said nearby Cyprus and Greece had responded to Lebanon’s call for help.

“Two Cypriot planes have been working to put out the fires since yesterday,” she said on Twitter.

“Greece has responded to our request and will send two planes to help us,” she added.

Jordan’s army said the king had ordered two firefighting planes to be dispatched.

NNA said the army was working together with helicopters and the Cypriot planes to fight the blaze, with access sometimes impeded by thick smoke and high-voltage power lines.

Personnel from UN peacekeeping force UNIFIL, who usually patrol the country’s southern border with Israel, have also joined in the efforts, the agency said.

Lebanese on social media criticised the government’s apparent inability to respond fast enough on its own.

In neighbouring war-torn Syria, fires also killed two people, Syrian state media said.

Flames have ripped through parts of the coastal provinces of Latakia and Tartus, as well as the central province of Homs but most have been brought under control, state news agency SANA said.

Two members of the Latakia forestry department were killed while fighting the blaze, it added.

In Tartus, the fires — mostly stamped out — coincided with the olive harvest, the governor told SANA.

In Homs, trees were burnt and electricity networks disrupted in mountainous areas, the agency reported.

AFP