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October 20, 2019

Hundreds gather in Lebanon for third day of protests


October 20, 2019

BEIRUT: Hundreds gathered in Lebanon on Saturday for a third day of protests against tax increases and alleged official corruption after the security forces made dozens of arrests.

Crowds began gathering in front of the seat of government in the capital Beirut around lunchtime, with many waving billowing Lebanese flags.

The protesters are demanding a sweeping overhaul of Lebanon’s political system, citing grievances ranging from austerity measures to poor infrastructure.

They have crippled the capital Beirut and threatened to topple the country’s fragile coalition government.

The protests, which politicians uncharacteristically admitted were spontaneous, gripped all parts of the country.

In the northern city of Tripoli, Lebanon’s second largest, demonstrator Hoda Sayyur was unimpressed by the contrition some leaders displayed on television and echoed a widely held hope that the entire political class would go down. "They took all our fundamental rights... We are dying at hospital gates," the woman in her fifties said.

"I will stay in the street... Since I was born, we’ve been spectators to their quarrels and corruption," she said.

In Beirut, troops reopened blocked highways after security forces used tear gas and water cannons to disperse a huge crowd of protesters who had gathered in the heart of Beirut on Friday evening. The Internal Security Forces said 70 arrests were made on accusations of theft and arson.

Prime Minister Saad Hariri has given his deeply divided coalition until Monday evening to give their backing to a reform package aimed at shoring up the government’s finances and securing the disbursement of desperately needed economic assistance from donors.

Hariri’s political rival, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah, gave his first response on Saturday, telling protesters their "message was heard loudly" and calling for political action. In a thinly veiled criticism of Hariri, Nasrallah condemned those who had renounced their "responsibilities and were blaming others."

But he warned against demanding resignation of the government, saying it could take a long time to form a new one and solve the crisis.

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