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(en) ait russia: Lebanon rebels against austerity [machine translation]

Date Mon, 28 Oct 2019 08:23:14 +0200

Lebanon became another country where the working masses and the poor rebelled against the arrogance of the rich and the incessant neoliberal attack on the living conditions of ordinary people. This time, overflowing the chalice of patience, this time was the decision of the government to introduce a mandatory daily fee for using voice calls in instant messengers, in particular, WhatsApp. But the explosion was brewing for a long time. ---- In an attempt to get away from economic problems, those in power habitually decided to shift the burdens onto the shoulders of the working people and introduce a number of new taxes. ---- Lebanon has one of the largest public debt in the world. The government wanted to introduce new taxes to reduce the budget deficit in order to unlock $ 11 billion of economic assistance promised by international donors. According to the Ministry of Finance, Lebanon's national debt is about $ 86 billion, which is more than 150% of GDP. In September, Prime Minister Hariri introduced a "state of emergency in the national economy" and announced the cabinet's intention to reduce the state budget deficit by fiscal year 2020 by almost 7%. The Hariri government took unpopular measures to reduce social payments and pension benefits to public sector employees and military personnel with the expectation of receiving large financial assistance and avoiding default ( https://www.bbc.com/russian/news-50108679 )

From the 10th of October, riots began to erupt in the country, and the WhatsApp tax was the last straw.

The population found out that there will be a fee for using any VoIP services in popular instant messengers. According to the plan, for every day of using voice calls on WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger, as well as for FaceTime calls, Lebanese residents will have to pay 20 cents (about 13 rubles). After the news spread through local communication channels, the unrest and protests in the evening of October 17 began to develop into mass riots (https://www.popmech.ru/technologies/news-515382-nalog-na-golos-v-whatsapp-vyzval-massovye-besporyadki/)

On October 17, thousands of Lebanese spontaneously took to the streets, demanding the departure of predatory power. Protesters built barricades of burning tires and stopped traffic. The performances were the largest in scale for many years. In clashes with police using tear gas, dozens of people were injured. "The people are demanding the fall of the regime," chanted protesters gathered in Riad al-Solkh's Beirut Square. "We are not here because of WhatsApp," one of the participants of Abdullah explained to correspondents, "we are here because of everything: fuel, food, bread, everything." Many also expressed outrage at the authorities' inaction in the fight against forest fires - the largest in the country in decades.

After a few hours, the authorities abolished the WhatsApp tax, but this did not satisfy the protesters (https://www.popmech.ru/technologies/news-515382-nalog-na-golos-v-whatsapp-vyzval-massovye-besporyadki/)

On October 18, police in the center of Beirut used water cannons and tear gas to disperse the demonstrators. Hundreds of thousands of protesters blocked roads in the Lebanese capital, burned tires and garbage in the streets. They accuse the authorities of corruption and theft, saying they will not stop the protests until the government resigns.

Participant of the protest rally: "I need to undergo hemodialysis regularly. During the gasoline crisis, I begged at the gas station to give me a little to get to the hospital, but they refused. I am a sick woman. My son lives abroad. Treatment is expensive. The bills for drugs gasoline ... I can barely make ends meet. "

As a result of clashes between protesters and law enforcement officers, at least 200 people were injured at the government building, including 60 police officers ( https://ru.euronews.com/2019/10/18/lebanon-friday-update )

On October 19, protesters again took to the streets. They began to build barricades in the streets leading to the Martyrs Square in the center of the capital. At the same time, they used garbage containers, concrete blocks and materials from construction sites. The night before, when street battles became especially intense, and now attacks were taking place on shops, offices and construction sites. Demonstrators chanted slogans and sang songs in front of the residence of the Prime Minister. Having prepared for volleys of tear gas, many protesters put on masks and goggles for swimming.

Thousands of young people gathered in Riad al-Solha Square. They sang and chanted. Authorities closed universities until Saturday. Schools and banks also stopped working. South of Martyrs Square, an unfinished building was set on fire, and protesters did not allow firefighters to enter. Police were not allowed into areas under the control of the protesters, but ambulances could travel freely. After a few hours, the fire went out by itself.

With the onset of darkness, clashes began to boil again on Solkh Square. The protesters bravely resisted the gas. However, this time the security forces managed to take control of the city center by 23.00 (https://www.middleeasteye.net/gallery/pictures/Clashes-Lebanon-protesters-demand-leaders-quit).

On October 19, performances continued. In the middle of the day, people with state flags began to gather outside the government building in Beirut. Protesters demanded a complete review of Lebanon's political system. The center of Beirut was like a war zone. The streets were littered with broken glass, overturned trash cans and the remains of burnt tires. Banks and many restaurants and shops were closed. Protests that began spontaneously swept all regions of the country. In northern Lebanon, in Tripoli, the country's second largest city, protesters also gathered to launch fireworks and demand a change of power.

In Beirut, troops reopened blocked motorways after police used tear gas and water cannons to disperse the Friday crowd of protesters. According to police, 70 people were arrested and charged with theft and arson ( https://www.bbc.com/russian/news-50108679 )

On October 20, according to local media, one million seven hundred thousand people took part in anti-government demonstrations in Beirut and six other cities. The frightened prime minister announced a new anti-crisis plan, promising to increase taxes on incomes of banks and insurance companies and to cancel all previous decisions to reduce social payments and pensions to public sector employees. However, the demonstrators refused to accept these concessions. They continued to demand the departure of all authorities and called for a revolution ( https://ru.euronews.com/2019/10/21/lebanon-night-latest )

Here's what you could hear from the protesters:

"People can no longer tolerate this." There are no good schools left, no light, no water. Even the basic needs of the Lebanese are not satisfied, everyone came here with such requirements.

- Here you can feel powerful energy. I see that people from all regions take to the streets - this in itself exudes energy. I see Sunnis, Shiites, Christians and Druze - and it doesn't matter where someone came from, how or why - everyone joins forces (https://ru.euronews.com/2019/10/20/lebanon-historic-protests-government-concessions)

On October 21, a general strike was declared in the country. On this day, 2 million people participated in the demonstrations - a third of the country's population. The country was paralyzed - banks, state institutions, universities, schools and large shops were closed. Barricades began to be built right on the streets and mass clashes with the police took place. The military used rubber bullets to disperse the demonstrators in the center of Lebanon's capital Beirut. Police officers used tear gas and water cannons to disperse activists. As of October 22, a tent city with protesters remained in the center of Beirut. Activists also blocked the main motorways of the country (https://www.obozrevatel.com/abroad/vyishla-tret-stranyi-livan-nakryili-mnogomillionnyie-protestyi-foto-i-video.htm)

On October 21, the Prime Minister urged the parties of the government to support his "anti-crisis plan," making significant concessions to the protesters. The Lebanese government approved on Monday an anti-crisis program and a draft state budget for fiscal year 2020, refusing to introduce new taxes and cutting ministers by 50%. The authorities refused to introduce new taxes in the draft budget and will provide financial assistance to poor families. The Central Bank of Lebanon and commercial banks will allocate $ 3.5 billion to the government to implement urgent measures to stabilize the economy. The salary of ministers and members of parliament will be reduced by 50% in response to a wave of mass protests that swept the country. Revenues of banks and insurance companies will be increased by 25%. (Truth, the prime minister immediately promised the privatization of the telecommunications sector). In order to save state funds, the country's information ministry and a number of separate departments are being abolished. The cabinet decided to allocate $ 160 million to support housing loans for the population. The Lebanese prime minister also announced the authorities' intention to cancel all previous decisions to reduce social payments and pensions to public sector employees and military personnel, which caused discontent among citizens.

Addressing the participants in the mass demonstrations in Beirut, the prime minister said: "It's your protest actions that inspired the cabinet to make today's decisions." He said that if protesters insist on holding early parliamentary elections, he will support this demand. "We hear the voice of a people that requires a decent life," he emphasized (https://www.finanz.ru/novosti/aktsii/kabmin-livana-prinyal-antikrizisny-plan-bez-novykh-nalogov-i-sokrativ-zarplaty-ministram-1028615550)

But this did not satisfy the protesters. The whole system causes their anger, but, first of all, the banks and the political elite of the country. It was banks that benefited from the economic policy of recent years. Moreover, many of these banks belong to politicians and their relatives.

On October 22, a protest took place in front of the Central Bank in Beirut. "We don't want to pay for the debts that you transferred to us," the demonstrators chanted.

The main causes of anger are austerity policies and corrupt elite dominance. No wonder the French Internet magazine Mediapart links protests in Chile, Lebanon, Ecuador and other countries with a common headline: "The stormy sunset of the neoliberal empire."

Observers draw attention to the general features of recent protests in Lebanon, Iraq and Algeria. Their main driving force is youth. Unemployment among people under 25 reaches 37%, every year 30 thousand university graduates remain unemployed, the Lebanese newspaper An-Nahar reported in August, warning of imminent social upheavals.

The fact that the authorities have now decided to place part of the burden on banks demonstrates the pressure the government has faced. Among the promised reforms is the fact that banks will have to pay off debts from which they make a profit. The concession to the protesters was also the reduction of salaries to deputies and the dissolution of the Ministry of Information. This also includes the reduction of state subsidies to sectors affected by corruption, the adoption of a new law against the embezzlement of state money, the rejection of new taxes, the acceleration of the construction of new power plants, and a substantial increase in payments to old people and families. Privatization of telecommunications, although this is a neoliberal measure, but it is designed to reassure those who were outraged by the increase in fees for instant messengers ...

The effects of austerity policies in Lebanon are felt as never before. Firefighters lack funds. Power supply is becoming more and more expensive. Due to power outages, many families acquire their own generators, which are also expensive. The deplorable state of social services has been talked about for many years. Lebanon has recently been hit by a "garbage crisis" ...

The current protests are still distinguished by the fact that they crossed political and religious borders. They occur not only in Beirut, but also in other cities. Protests reject orientation to political parties. They are directed against the leaders of clans and billionaires. The roots of discontent go much deeper. People are outraged by the contempt for the general population on the part of the political elite, which draws its benchmarks from the dogmas of the World Economic Forum. They would like to "throw away the entire political elite." But they see, alas, no other way to do this, except by requiring a temporary "non-partisan" government ... (https://www.heise.de/tp/features/Libanon-Proteste-gegen-Banken-und-die-politische-Elite-4564703.html)
"Overthrow everything!" - read the banner held by a small group of demonstrators in Beirut against the night sky. Observers note the very creative nature of the protests that swept Lebanon from Tire in the south to Tripoli in the north and set out to conquer the ever-ruling country, which is enough for them. People not only demonstrate, they bring into the movement the notes of carnival. In Tripoli, the DJ brought his installation to the balcony and turned the demonstration into a disco party. In Beirut, wedding couples crowded into the ranks of the demonstration. When one of the motorists, whose car was stuck in the midst of the crowds, screamed that her child was scared, the crowd spontaneously sang a popular children's song for him. Protesters mockingly abuse the powers that be, remembering their mother and genitals ... They mock even the powerful Hezbollah - this state in the state.

The country has not known protests of this magnitude since 2005, when it was shocked by powerful demonstrations after the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri. But then the Sunnis, Druze and some Christians stood on one side, Shiites and other Christians on the other. Now the situation is different. Dissatisfaction is widespread.

" Today, the Lebanese are united as rarely, furious at the arrogance, the eternal falsehood of the rulers of all factions. The infrastructure was destroyed during the years. Ambulances donated from Europe, rot at customs, because that - illegally - also wants to bribes. In within a few weeks of forest burned and could not be extinguished, because the donated fire helicopters never came. Despite repeated denials, the central bank's holdings of foreign currency due to expire, after which the filling stations have already went on strike for one on the day, because importers can no longer pay for the gasoline. Bakery shops are close to closure because their importers have no dollars left for flour, "the German magazine Spiegel describes the position of a country that once had the best infrastructure in the entire Middle East.

"But now people are raising their voices. For the first time since 2015, when the collapse of the garbage collection plunged the whole country into smoke and the smell of decay. But there are much more people on the streets than then. And unlike 2015, when there are dangerous thugs from the Shiite party." Amal's Parliament Speaker Nabi Berry burst in and beat demonstrators, former militias lose their militants: hundreds of tough Amal guys appeared on their scooters in central Beirut this weekend, but this time to protect the protesters. They rattled and buzzed water guns and police on Distance and made it clear who owned their sympathy: the street. "

"The protests continue. Schools and universities are closed, public life freezes. All politicians these days express sympathy for those who wish them hell. Because nothing else occurs to them, but also because they can still assume that in the end, nothing will change. As in 2015: then they also demanded an end to corruption and demanded the resignation of politicians "(https://www.spiegel.de/politik/ausland/proteste-im-libanon-stuerzt-alles-analyse-a-1292791.html).

In other words: a change in the faces of those in power does not change anything. The system itself is subject to change.

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