Protests over economy, corruption target Lebanon's elite

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

Lebanese army soldiers pass by protesters on the highway linking Beirut to north Lebanon, in Zouk Mikael on October 19, 2019, one day after demonstrations swept through the eastern Mediterranean country in protest against dire economic conditions.

Despite the plans being pulled just hours later, protests have continued.

Thousands of people of all ages, sects and political affiliations had brought the capital to a standstill Friday, with demonstrations reported across the country.

Lebanon's prime minister gave his partners in government a 72-hour ultimatum to come up with "convincing" solutions for a rapidly worsening economic crisis, as nationwide protests against the country's entire ruling political class escalated.

A protester in the southern city of Nabatiyeh, a Hezbollah stronghold, said protesters are demanding their "rights". protesting.

Addressing the nation on TV, Hariri announced "I am giving our partners in government a very short deadline - 72 hours to give us a solution that can convince us, the people on the streets and our worldwide partners".

Earlier, the Cabinet had unveiled a new revenue raising measure, agreeing a charge of 20 cents per day for calls via voice over internet protocol (VoIP), used by applications including Facebook owned WhatsApp, Facebook calls and FaceTime, Information Minister Jamal al Jarrah said.

In an address to the nation and with hundreds of rowdy protesters camped outside his office, Saad Hariri blamed political partners in his national unity government, which includes the Iran-backed Hezbollah group and rival political parties, for blocking reform efforts at every turn.

Thousands of protesters have been rallying across the country for the past two days, raging against top leaders including the president, prime minister and parliament speaker whom they blame for decades of corruption and mismanagement that have led to the current crisis. Dozens of people on both sides were injured. "We are not here over the WhatsApp, we are here over everything: over fuel, food, bread, over everything", a protester named Abdullah said.

Protesters carry Lebanese flags and chant slogans during a protest in Beirut.

"We are here for the future of our kids".

The small Arab county that borders the Mediterranean and the Middle East has the third-highest debt level in the world, now standing at $86 billion, CBS News reported.

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

Lebanon is under pressure to approve the 2020 budget soon, a step that may help it unlock some $11 billion pledged at a donor conference a year ago, conditional on fiscal and other reforms.

The economic stakes have rarely been higher for Lebanon, a tiny country that straddles the geopolitical fault-lines of the Middle East, since the end of the 15-year civil war in 1990.

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