Lebanese Christian party quits government amid protests

Head of Lebanese forces party orders his ministers to resign from the government as tens of thousands protest austerity measures.

Ben Ariel,

Protest in Beirut, Lebanon
Protest in Beirut, Lebanon
Reuters

A Lebanese Christian party on Saturday quit the coalition government as tens of thousands of people took to the streets for a third day of protests against tax increases and alleged official corruption, AFP reports.

After protesters marched in Beirut, Tripoli and other cities, Samir Geagea, head of the Lebanese forces party, said his group was resigning from the government.

"We are now convinced that the government is unable to take the necessary steps to save the situation," he said, according to AFP.

"Therefore, the bloc decided to ask its ministers to resign from the government," added Geagea.

Lebanon, which has one of the world's highest debt to gross domestic product ratios, passed an austerity budget in July.

On Thursday, hundreds took to the streets across Lebanon to protest the latest austerity measure, a government decision to tax calls made on messaging applications such as WhatsApp.

The move would have seen a 20-cent daily fee being charged for messaging app users. However, the tax was later scrapped.

Nevertheless, the protests continued on Friday and Saturday, despite calls for calm from politicians and dozens of arrests. Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri on Friday gave his government three days to agree on key reforms.

Demonstrators in Beirut celebrated the news of the Christian party's resignation, calling on other blocs to leave the government. In Tripoli, they let off fireworks.

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 neighboring Syria.

The Syrian civil war has spilled over into Lebanon mainly due to Hezbollah’s involvement in the fighting. Hezbollah's strongholds have come under repeated bomb attacks over its involvement in the Syrian conflict.

Politically, a new government headed by Hariri was formed in February following a nine-month deadlock.

Hezbollah, which has a strong political presence in Lebanon, is a major part of Hariri’s cabinet, after the group and its allies gained more than half the seats of the 128-member Lebanese parliament in the election last May.




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