Published: Tue, October 22, 2019
Global News | By Blake Casey

Lebanon to approve 11th hour reforms as mass protests swell

Lebanon to approve 11th hour reforms as mass protests swell

The government's mismanagement of a deepening economic crisis and a new tax proposal have prompted Lebanese people to take to the streets to demand the government step down.

The cabinet also approved on Monday a 2020 state budget that does not impose new taxes on people and aims for a deficit of 0.6 percent of total economic output, down from a previous target of about 7 percent.

He added that the economic reform package would include no new taxes and impose stringent measures such as salary cuts for public servants and elected officials, efforts to recover stolen government funds, the closure of unnecessary government offices, the revamping of electricity services and the privatization of mobile phone companies.

Prime Minister Saad Hariri will put forward a reform plan during the morning government meeting at the presidential palace in Beirut's southeastern suburb of Baabda. "That is your decision to make", Hariri said in a televised press conference. "These decisions are not for exchange".

He said Hariri reconfirmed that these measures are not meant to ask the protesters to "stop expressing anger" as that is "a decision that only they can take". "It is in this perspective that we are committed, with our global partners, to the rapid implementation of the decisions taken at the CEDRE conference in Paris in April 2018", von der Muhll said.

But, his words fell on deaf ears. Whatever the reforms might do to address some of the protesters' grievances, they ignore calls for holding corrupt politicians to account.

The budget was signed by President Michel Aoun, Prime Minister Saad Hariri and Finance Minister Ali Hassan Khalil.

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More than a quarter of Lebanon's population lives below the poverty line, the World Bank says, while the political class has remained relatively unchanged since the end of a devastating 15-year civil war in 1990.

The budget could help one of the world's most indebted countries unlock billions of dollars that were pledged by worldwide donors past year but are conditional on long-delayed reforms to curb waste and corruption.

Schools, banks, universities and many private businesses closed their doors on Monday, both for security reasons and in an apparent bid to encourage people to join the demonstrations.

Confidence in Lebanon's entire political class is at a grievously low point and Hariri's deadline only brought even more people onto to the streets with hundreds of thousands demonstrating over the weekend, calling on the government to resign.

Hariri was also quoted by Arabian Business as saying he also supported the demonstrators' call for early elections.

As well as anti-government demonstrations in Tripoli, protesters in the southern Shi'ite city of Nabatiyeh tore down posters of Nabil Berri, speaker of Lebanon's parliament and head of the Hezbollah-allied Amal Movement, denouncing him as a thief.

The Internal Security Force's riot police fired tear gas at thousands of largely peaceful protesters, including children, the US-based rights group said.

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