Lebanese government under pressure as anti-austerity protests mount

BEIRUT, Weedah Hamzah (dpa)- Tens of thousands of anti-austerity protesters took to the streets across Lebanon for a fourth straight day on Sunday, demanding the resignation of the government over the poor state of the economy.
An estimated 1.5 million people out of Lebanon's 4.5 million population participated in anti-government rallies across the country on Sunday, Lebanese television stations reported.

Streets leading to Beirut's main Riad al-Solh Square, which faces the seat of the government, were filled with people waving Lebanese flags and chanting patriotic songs.
"You should all leave, we do not trust you," read one placard carried by a protester. "The word is now for the people of Lebanon, not the political leaders," read another. 
Protests also took place outside the capital and in areas across the country, with major roads blocked and tents erected in the streets.
The protesters, who have been on the streets since Thursday, have vowed to continue rallying despite the resignations late Saturday of four members of the government from the political party Christian Lebanese Forces.
The two ministers of Druze leader Walid Jumblatt's party in the incumbent government announced that they are staying, promising to implement reforms to heal the ailing economy.
On Friday, Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri gave his partners in the government a 72-hour deadline to agree on a solution to the country's festering economic crisis.
Sources close to Hariri said he had held a series of meetings with different political parties to discuss a proposed reform scheme. 
The plan rules out new taxes, but propses slashing salaries of government ministers and lawmakers, according to the sources.
But many of the protesters are insisting the Hariri government resign and be replaced with a group of technocrats.
Lebanese citizens have been suffering from tax hikes and dire economic conditions in the heavily indebted country.
Political observers believe that should the government resign, Lebanon would fall into a political vacuum that could last months due to frequent wrangling among rival factions in the country. 
The ongoing unrest in Lebanon has forced the closure of businesses and education institutions in the country.
The Association of Banks in Lebanon announced that banks will stay closed on Monday, out of fear that the situation will deteriorate after Hariri's deadline expires.
Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah, whose movement is part of the government, warned Saturday that a change in the government would only worsen the situation.
Lebanon is under pressure from the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund to take austerity measures in return for financial support.
The country has one of the biggest public debt ratios in the world, equivalent to about 150 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP). 

Sunday, October 20th 2019
Weedah Hamzah (dpa)

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