Lebanon’s ‘tax intifada’: Beirut aflame as protesters call for ‘downfall of the regime’ (VIDEOS)

The spark for the latest wave of protests came in the form of a proposed new fee of 20 cents per day for calls via voice over internet protocol (VoIP). However, as the anti-government protests gained traction across the country, the proposal was quickly revoked by Telecoms Minister Mohamed Choucair. This proposed “WhatsApp tax” would have come in addition to a tax hike on Value-Added Tax (VAT) from 11 to 15 percent.

In addition, the country has just endured its worst forest fires in more than 10 years. The government also took flak for mismanaging the response and failure to limit the damage. 

Thousands of protesters gathered outside the government headquarters in central Beirut on Thursday evening, as protesters chanted “the people want the downfall of the regime,” during the largest protests the country has witnessed in years. 

The government has been widely criticized for failing to implement long-promised reforms aimed at tackling its ongoing economic woes, as unemployment for those under 35 remains stubbornly high at 37 percent. Lebanon also suffers under one of the world’s largest debt burdens owing to its 15-year civil war which lasted from 1975 to 1990. 

 Lebanese media has described the latest round of protests, which cross sectarian lines, as a “tax intifada” and the “WhatsApp Revolution.” The government, which consists of almost all major parties, was appointed less than a year ago and many are already wondering whether it will survive the current unrest. 

The cabinet was due to meet at the presidential palace in Baabda to discuss the 2020 state budget before the weekend, but Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri cancelled the meeting early on Friday. 

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So far, two foreign workers have died from smoke inhalation as a result of a fire that broke out near the protests in Beirut. 

According to the Lebanese Red Cross, 22 people were taken to hospital and 77 treated for their injuries at the scene as police deployed rubber bullets, tear gas and baton charges to disperse the crowds of protesters that thronged the streets for up to 10 hours on Thursday evening. 

All schools, universities and banks across the country are closed Friday on government orders in anticipation of further protests.

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