Cash-strapped Lebanon imposing new taxes including on Whatsapp calls

Cash-strapped Lebanon imposing new taxes including on Whatsapp calls”

Protests have broken out across Lebanon with thousands of demonstrators blocking roads in various parts of the country to express their outrage over gloomy economic conditions. The government, which includes almost all of Lebanon's main parties, has long failed to implement reforms that are vital to resolve the crisis.

Shattered by war between 1975 and 1990, Lebanon has one of the world's highest debt burdens as a share of its economy.

Saudi Arabia's embassy in Lebanon called on its citizens to avoid places where protests are taking place in the country on Friday.

Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil, the son-in-law of the president and an opponent of Hariri, called for urgent measures to fight corruption and warned in a televised address that the collapse of the government would result in "chaos" and undermine the currency peg.

"We are here today to ask for our rights. The country is corrupt, the garbage is all over the streets and we are fed up with all this", said Loris Obeid, a protester in downtown Beirut.

Banks, schools and businesses were shut down as the protests escalated, some demonstrators rioting and setting fire to buildings while accusing the country's lawmakers of decades of corruption and financial mismanagement. Hundreds of people burned tyres on highways and intersections in suburbs of the capital, Beirut, and in northern and southern cities, sending up clouds of black smoke in scattered protests.

Lebanese protesters block a main road near Beirut-Rafic Hariri International Airport on October 18, 2019.

"Nothing works here. We have neither enough electricity nor enough jobs". The backtrack on the VoIP tax was a result of increasing protests in the country over the government's economic policy.

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The announcement comes against the backdrop of the mass demonstrations being staged countrywide in protest against the government plan in the 2020 state budget to levy a tax on using WhatsApp and increase the petrol prices.

Shortly after Hariri's speech, groups of rioters in the capital, Beirut, separated from peaceful protesters and clashed with police as they ignited cars and broke store windows.

Some protesters shouted "Revolution!" and "The people want to bring down the regime", echoing chants from the Arab Spring protests that brought turmoil to most the Middle East and North Africa.

Some protesters threw stones, shoes and water bottles at security forces and scuffled with police.

Forty members of Lebanon's Internal Security Forces (ISF) were wounded in the protests, the ISF said in a tweet. Protesters were also injured.

"At the request of Prime Minister Saad Hariri, a decision was made to cancel a 20 cent [daily] tax on calls made via WhatsApp". The small Arab country on the Mediterranean has the third-highest debt level in the world - about £67bn - or 150% of its gross domestic product.

Worldwide donors have been demanding that Lebanon implement economic changes in order to get loans and grants pledged at an economic conference in Paris in April 2018. Global donors pledged $11 billion for Lebanon but they sought to ensure the money is well spent in the corruption-plagued country.

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