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Lebanon braced for massive anti-government protests

World News | Published:

Tens of thousands of people were gathering in Beirut’s central square, waving Lebanese flags and chanting the ‘people want to bring down the regime’.

Lebanon Protests

Tens of thousands of protesters have gathered in Lebanon’s major cities and towns demanding an end to corruption and the rule of the country’s political elite, in the largest anti-government protests yet in four days of demonstrations.

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 rubbish left behind by the previous night’s protests.

Lebanon Protests
Anti-government protesters in Beirut (Hassan Ammar/AP)

The spontaneous mass demonstrations are Lebanon’s largest in five years, spreading beyond Beirut. They are building on long-simmering anger at a ruling class that has monopolised power and amassed wealth for decades but has done little to fix a crumbling economy and dilapidated infrastructure.

The unrest erupted after the government proposed new taxes, part of stringent austerity measures amid a growing economic crisis. The protests have brought people from across the sectarian and religious lines that define the country.

In the northern Beirut suburb of Jal el-Deeb, hundreds of people held a boisterous protest gathering on the main route that links Beirut with the northern city of Tripoli.

They filled a nearby overpass with Lebanese flags, forming a sea of red and white. As in other locations, there was no sign of any political party’s flag.

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Lebanon Protests
Protesters hold banners during a demonstration in Beirut, Lebanon (Hussein Malla/AP)

Politicians are racing against time to put forward an economic rescue plan they hope will help calm the public.

Many of the protesters have already said they do not trust the government’s reforms, and are calling on the 30-member cabinet to resign and be replaced by a smaller one made up of technocrats instead of members of political groups.

In a speech on Friday night, prime minister Saad Hariri gave his partners in the government a 72-hour ultimatum to come up with convincing solutions to the economic crisis. A day later, he said he was meeting cabinet ministers to “reach what serves the Lebanese”.

On Sunday, he continued his meetings to finish suggestions to revive the country’s crumbling economy, which has been suffering from high unemployment, little growth and one of the highest debts ratios in the world, at 150% of GDP.

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