US backs Lebanese citizens' right to protest

Senior State Department official says Lebanese people are “rightfully angered” with their government.

Ben Ariel ,

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

A senior US State Department official said on Wednesday that Lebanese people are “rightfully angered” with their government over its refusal to tackle corruption, adding that Washington supports their right to demonstrate peacefully.

“The people in Lebanon are frustrated. The crowds that are coming out are enormous…and people want to see action. The United States government supports their call for action for reform for fighting corruption,” the official said, according to Reuters.

“This is not a new problem. The economic crisis that Lebanon is currently facing was a slow train coming,” added the official.

The comments follow a week of demonstrations on the streets of Lebanon as citizens protest against the government’s austerity measures.

The protests were initially started in response to what has become known as the “WhatsApp Tax”, which would have seen a 20-cent daily fee being charged for messaging app users. The tax was later scrapped but the protests have continued.

Lebanese army troops scuffled with demonstrators on Wednesday as they struggled to unblock main roads, according to Reuters. Banks were closed for a fifth working day and schools remained shut. Many highways were impassable.

Sources said Lebanese leaders are discussing a possible government reshuffle to defuse the protests.

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

Earlier this week, Prime Minister Saad Hariri agreed on a package of reforms with government partners to ease the economic crisis.

The package includes 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.

In addition, it 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.