Thousands protest in Lebanon, gov't to debate reforms

Tens of thousands of Lebanese protesters gather in major cities and towns to protest austerity measures.

Elad Benari, Canada ,

Anti-government protest in downtown Beirut
Anti-government protest in downtown Beirut

Tens of thousands of Lebanese protesters of all ages gathered on Sunday in major cities and towns nationwide in the largest anti-government protests in four days of demonstrations.

The Associated Press reported that protesters danced and sang in the streets, some waving Lebanese flags and chanting "the people want to bring down the regime." In the morning, young men and women carried blue bags and cleaned the streets of the capital, Beirut, picking up trash left behind by the previous night's protests.

Meanwhile, official sources told Reuters that Prime Minister Saad Hariri has agreed on a package of reforms with government partners to ease the economic crisis.

A cabinet meeting is expected on Monday to approve them, the sources said.

Hariri on Friday gave his government three days to agree on key reforms, hinting he may otherwise resign.

The decisions to be discussed call for a 50% reduction in the salaries of current and former officials and $3.3 billion in contributions from banks to achieve a "near zero deficit" for the 2020 budget, according to Reuters.

The package also includes a plan to privatize Lebanon’s telecommunications sector and an overhaul to its crippled electricity sector, a crucial demand among potential foreign donors and investors needed to unlock some $11 billion in funds to Lebanon.

The sources said the budget would not include any additional taxes or fees amid widespread unrest that were triggered in part by a decision last week to put a levy on WhatsApp calls.

On Thursday, hundreds took to the streets across Lebanon to protest the measure known as the “WhatsApp Tax”, which 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.

On Saturday night, Samir Geagea, head of the Christian Lebanese Forces party, said his group was resigning from the government in the wake of the protests.

(Arutz Sheva’s North American desk is keeping you updated until the start of Simchat Torah and Shmini Atzeret in New York. The time posted automatically on all Arutz Sheva articles, however, is Israeli time.)