Lebanese celebrities join Beirut protests as anger rises over tax reforms

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A Lebanese demonstrator holds a placard on a highway linking Beirut to north Lebanon, in Zouk Mikael on October 19, 2019, a day after demonstrations swept through the eastern Mediterranean country in protest against dire economic conditions. (AFP)
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A Lebanese demonstrator holds aa placard on a highway linking Beirut to north Lebanon, in Zouk Mikael on October 19, 2019, a day after demonstrations swept through the eastern Mediterranean country in protest against dire economic conditions. (AFP)
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A Lebanese protester carries the national flag on the highway linking Beirut to north Lebanon, in Zouk Mikael on October 19, 2019, a day after demonstrations swept through the eastern Mediterranean country in protest against dire economic conditions. (AFP)
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Lebanese demonstrators wave national flags on a highway linking Beirut to north Lebanon, in Zouk Mikael on October 19, 2019, a day after demonstrations swept through the eastern Mediterranean country in protest against dire economic conditions. (AFP)
Updated 20 October 2019

Lebanese celebrities join Beirut protests as anger rises over tax reforms

  • A video emerged on social media showing actress Nadine Al-Rassi preparing to set fire to a car tire in downtown Beirut
  • In a series of tweets, Lebanese recording artist Elissa, who is abroad, supported the protesters’ demands

BEIRUT: Lebanese celebrities joined thousands of protesters on the streets of Beirut on Saturday to voice their anger at the country’s ruling elite.
Singers, actors and playwrights were among a host of high-profile artists who backed demands for action over government corruption and to counter Lebanon’s spiralling economic crisis.
Beirut has been shrouded in smoke for three days following widespread protests and rioting over government tax plans.
A video emerged on social media showing actress Nadine Al-Rassi preparing to set fire to a car tire in downtown Beirut and crying inconsolably about her financial state.
The actress, wearing jeans and her face blackened, told protesters: “I am Nadine Al-Rassi. I was hungry for seven days. I have debts. Banque du Liban (Lebanon’s central bank) seized my house and I am unable to rent a home. Corrupt people should be held responsible.”


In a series of tweets, Lebanese recording artist Elissa, who is abroad, supported the protesters’ demands, saying: “This is the first time I wish I were in Lebanon. My heart is with you.”
In another tweet, the high-profile singer, one of the Middle East’s best-selling performers, said: “I proudly follow the news of Beirut and its citizens ... who are demanding a decent life. It is time for people to get back their dignity.”
Meanwhile, singer and composer Ragheb Alama expressed his dismay at a Council of Ministers plan to impose a daily fee on WhatsApp calls.
“The people’s misfortunes are not funny. Why don’t you tax the polluted air people breathe? It is a great idea that brings money to your fathers’ treasury, too,” he wrote.
Alama accused the Parliament of responsibility for the country’s dire economy: “Why do deputies receive money, privileges and overheads, and what have they done? They covered up for looting and stealing for decades. They are responsible for destroying the economy and the country.”
Nancy Ajram, one of the Arab world’s most popular singers, wrote on Twitter: “My heart goes out to my country every moment and with every heartbeat. We are a people who deserves to live and it is our right to live with dignity. May God protect Lebanon.”

Singer and actress Haifa Wehbe tweeted: “There is nothing better than the Lebanese people when they stand in unity and under one slogan, without any political affiliation. We are all for our country.”
Comedian and prime-time TV host Hisham Haddad was among celebrities who joined protesters at Riad El-Solh Square, near the Prime Minister’s office, site of the biggest centralized demonstrations.
Actress Maguy Bou Ghosn, singer Moeen Shreif, actors Abdo Chahine, Badih Abou Chakra and Junaid Zeineldine, playwright Ziad Itani and musician Ziyad Sahhab also joined the protests.
Actor Wissam Hanna called on Twitter for protesters to close the Beirut Airport road to stop corrupt officials fleeing the country.
“I am all for closing down the airport road to stop thieves from fleeing. I am all for recovering stolen funds. Lebanon rises, revolts and it is time to hold them accountable,” he wrote.
Actress Gretta Aoun said: “We have to take to the streets. They must know the extent of our pain.”

 


Trump, Pence back Iran protests as IAEA seeks answers on uranium traces

Updated 9 min 50 sec ago

Trump, Pence back Iran protests as IAEA seeks answers on uranium traces

  • Nuclear watchdog’s top inspector’s visit set
  • Internet only restored in 10% of the country

JEDDAH: US President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence on Thursday expressed support for anti-government protesters in Iran. 

Trump said Iran is so “unstable” that the government has shut down the Internet so Iranians cannot disclose what he says is the “tremendous violence” occurring in the country.

Trump tweeted Thursday that the Iranian government wants “ZERO transparency” and believes that by shutting down the Internet the rest of the world will not find out about the “death and tragedy that the Iranian Regime is causing!”

Pence, also in a tweet, he said: “As Iranians take to the streets … the Ayatollahs in Tehran continue to use violence and imprisonment to oppress their people. The United States’ message is clear: The American people stand with the people of Iran.”

More than 100 protesters have been killed by security forces, according to Amnesty International. The EU, France, Germany and human-rights organizations have condemned the use of lethal force against the protesters.

The unrest erupted on Nov. 15 after the government announced gasoline price hikes of at least 50 percent. Protests began in several provincial areas before spreading to about 100 cities and towns across the country. They soon turned political, with protesters demanding top officials step down.

On Thursday, the regime began restoring Internet access in Tehran and a number of provinces, following a nationwide shutdown designed to stifle the unrest.

The blockage made it difficult for protesters to post videos on social media to generate support, and to obtain reliable reports on the extent of the unrest.

Internet blockage observatory NetBlocks said the restoration of connectivity in Iran was only partial, covering about 10 percent of the country.

Meanwhile, the UN nuclear watchdog’s top inspector will travel to Tehran next week to demand an explanation of the origin of uranium traces found at an undeclared site, the agency’s acting chief said on Thursday.

It was first reported in September that the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) had found uranium traces at the site. Tehran said the site is a carpet-cleaning facility.

Two weeks ago, the IAEA confirmed that environmental samples taken at an unspecified site had shown traces of uranium that was processed but not enriched.

“We have continued our interactions with Iran since then, but have not received any additional information and the matter remains unresolved,” acting IAEA Director General Cornel Feruta told a quarterly meeting of his agency’s 35-nation board of governors in Vienna.

Feruta told Iran in September that “time is of the essence” in clearing up the origin of the traces. 

The IAEA has not been convinced by Tehran’s explanations.

“A meeting between the agency and Iran is scheduled next week in Tehran to discuss it further,” Feruta said. “It is essential that Iran works with the agency to resolve this matter promptly.”