Tens of thousands gather across Lebanon for third day of protests

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Riot police stand guard as anti-government protesters try to remove a barbed-wire barrier to advance towards the government buildings during a protest in Beirut, Lebanon, Saturday, Oct. 19, 2019. (AP)
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Lebanese protesters wave national flags as they take part in a third day of protests against tax increases and official corruption in the southern city of Sidon, on October 19, 2019, after security forces made dozens of arrests. (AFP)
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Lebanese army soldiers pass by protesters on the highway linking Beirut to north Lebanon, in Zouk Mikael on October 19, 2019, one day after demonstrations swept through the eastern Mediterranean country in protest against dire economic conditions. (AFP)
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Black smoke rise from burning tires that were set fire to block a road during a protest against government's plans to impose new taxes in Beirut, Lebanon, Saturday, Oct. 19, 2019. (AP)
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People walk through damage a day after protests targeting the government over an economic crisis in Beirut, Lebanon October 19, 2019. (Reuters)
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Lebanese demonstrators block the way for cars on the highway linking Beirut to north Lebanon, in Zouk Mikael on October 19, 2019, one day after demonstrators swept through the eastern Mediterranean country to protest against dire economic conditions. (AFP)
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Protesters wave the national flag in downtown beirut as hundreds continued to gather on October 19, 2019 for a third day of protests against tax increases and alleged official corruption after the security forces made dozens of arrests. (AFP)
Updated 03 November 2019

Tens of thousands gather across Lebanon for third day of protests

  • Parts of central Beirut looked like a war zone, littered with broken glass, overturned litter bins and the remains of burning tires. Banks and many restaurants and shops remained closed
  • The current unity government has the backing of most Lebanese political parties, including Hezbollah

BEIRUT: Tens of thousands of Lebanese people took to the streets Saturday for a third day of protests against tax increases and alleged official corruption despite several arrests by security forces.
They streamed into the streets around the country's parliament in Beirut, as well as elsewhere across the country, AFP journalists said, despite calls for calm from politicians and dozens of arrests on Friday.
The number of protesters grew steadily throughout the day, with major demonstrations in second city Tripoli, in the north, and other locations.
Many waved billowing Lebanese flags and insisted the protests should remain peaceful and non-sectarian.
The demonstrators are demanding a sweeping overhaul of Lebanon's political system, citing grievances ranging from austerity measures to poor infrastructure.
They have crippled main roads and threatened to topple the country's fragile coalition government.
Most Lebanese politicians have uncharacteristically admitted the demonstrations are spontaneous, rather than blaming outside influence.
In Tripoli demonstrator Hoda Sayyur was unimpressed by the contrition some leaders displayed on television and echoed a widely-held hope that the entire political class be replaced.
"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.
The army on Saturday called on protesters to "express themselves peacefully without harming public and private property".

Saturday evening thousands were again packed into the Riyadh al-Solh Square in central Beirut, despite security forces using tear gas and water cannons to disperse similar crowds a day before.
The Internal Security Forces said 70 arrests were made Friday on accusations of theft and arson.
But all of those held at the main police barracks were released Saturday, the National News Agency (NNA) said.
It said that the father of one man detained tried to set himself on fire in front of a police station.
The demonstrations first erupted on Thursday, sparked by a proposed 20 cent tax on calls via messaging apps such as WhatsApp.
Such calls are the main method of communication for many Lebanese and, despite the government's swift abandonment of the tax, the demonstrations quickly swelled into the largest in years.
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.
He held a series of meetings Saturday regarding the situation, NNA said.
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.
The current unity government has the backing of most Lebanese political parties, including Hezbollah.
Karim el-Mufti, a Lebanese political scientist, said Hezbollah, which is fighting in neighbouring Syria alongside the government of Bashar al-Assad, wanted to avoid potential chaos at home.

In the southern port city of Tyre, supporters of Shia politician and speaker of parliament Nabih Berri attacked protesters Saturday, a witness said, a day after demonstrators had accused him of corruption.
His Amal political party condemned the attack and called for an investigation.
More than a quarter of the Lebanese population lives below the poverty line, according to the World Bank.
Many of the country's senior politicians came to prominence during the country's 15-year civil war, which ended in 1990.
A protester in the southern city of Nabatiyeh, a Hezbollah stronghold, said protesters are demanding their "rights". protesting.
"They are trying to portray us as a mob, but we are demanding our rights," he told a local television channel. "We are used to repression."
Lebanon has one of the highest public debt burdens in the world and the government is trying to reach agreement on a package of belt-tightening measures to cap the deficit in next year's budget.
The promised austerity moves are essential if Lebanon is to unlock $11 billion in economic assistance pledged by international donors last year.
Growth has plummeted in recent years, with political deadlock compounded by the impact of eight years of war in neighbouring Syria.
Lebanon's public debt stands at around $86 billion -- more than 150 percent of gross domestic product -- according to the finance ministry.

Lebanon agrees final budget with no taxes 

Lebanon's finance minister said on Saturday following a meeting with Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri that they had agreed on a final budget that did not include any additional taxes or fees in a bid to appease nationwide protests.
Lebanon President Michel Aoun said in a tweet that there would be a "reassuring solution" to the economic crisis.

(With Reuters)

SALT Abu Dhabi: Where finance, technology, geopolitics meet

Updated 22 min 52 sec ago

SALT Abu Dhabi: Where finance, technology, geopolitics meet

  • Conference run by ex-White House communications chief Anthony Scaramucci comes to the Middle East
  • Platform aims to arrange conversations that can create greater cross-cultural understanding

DUBAI: The first Middle East SALT conference — the global thought leadership platform run by former White House communications director Anthony Scaramucci — kicks off in the UAE capital Abu Dhabi on Tuesday.
Some 1,000 leaders from the worlds of investment, finance and policymaking will gather at the city’s financial hub, the Abu Dhabi Global Market (ADGM), for the two-day event, billed as a “Davos style” forum intended to “foster collaboration at the intersection of finance, technology and geopolitics.”
Scaramucci, who launched the event in 2009 under the auspices of his investment business Skybridge Alternatives, told Arab News that there will be a “phenomenal group of people” at the event, which combines onstage presentations, one-to-one “bilaterals” and networking for some of the leading business and technology thinkers in the world.
“It’s through conversations like these that we can create greater cross-cultural understanding and begin to solve the world’s most pressing problems,” he said.
The big annual meeting is held in Last Vegas each year, but spin-off events have been held in Tokyo and Singapore.
The event will have a strongly regional flavor, with Saudi Prince Turki Al-Faisal, chairman of the King Faisal Center for Research and Islamic Studies, being joined by ADGM Chairman Ahmed Al-Sayegh and Khaldoon Al-Mubarak, managing director and group CEO of the Mubadala Investment Co., both of the UAE.
Al-Sayegh said: “The UAE’s robust economic environment, comprehensive industry offerings and sound political stability continue to uphold the nation’s stature as one of the most preferred investment destinations in the world.”
He added: “The SALT Abu Dhabi conference opens up a new window for global businesses and policymakers to gain new insights of what Abu Dhabi and the UAE have to offer now and in the long term.”
Among the foreign thought leaders attending the event are Gen. John F Kelly, former White House chief of staff, and Matteo Renzi, former prime minister of Italy.
“The future of US-Arab relations” will be the topic of a panel discussion on Monday. The session, to be moderated by Arab News Editor in Chief Faisal J. Abbas, will feature Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations; Norman Roule, CEO of Pharos Strategic Consulting LLC; and Dania Koleilat Khatib, affiliated scholar at the Issam Fares Institute.
On the same day, another panel discussion — featuring Renzi and Phillip Hammond, former chancellor of the British Exchequer, and moderated by Gideon Rachman, chief foreign affairs commentator at the Financial Times — will address “the future of Europe.”
The delegates will be keen to hear Scaramucci’s latest view on the political situation in the US.
He has been one of the fiercest critics of the presidency of Donald Trump, and is leading a campaign to persuade other members of the Republican Party to choose another contender for next year’s presidential election.
“Given his rank lawlessness and criminal activity, the lack of resistance in the Republican Party to him tells you a lot about the hypocrisy in America today,” Scaramucci said.
“He has clearly broken the law, but he has a group of sycophants and acolytes who won’t condemn what he’s doing,” he added.
“I just think he’s the wrong leader for the US. Our system is supposed to ensure that everyone is subject to the law. The president is supposed to serve, not rule. I think the guy is a traitor.”