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UK Says Lebanon Protesters Must Be Heard, Reforms Enacted

UK Says Lebanon Protesters Must Be Heard, Reforms Enacted

Thursday, 24 October, 2019 - 10:00
Demonstrators gather as Lebanese army soldiers stand guard during ongoing anti-government protests in Sidon, Lebanon October 24, 2019. REUTERS/Ali HashishoREUTERS

The "legitimate frustrations" of Lebanon's protesters should be heard and reforms enacted urgently, the British embassy in Lebanon said on Thursday amid nationwide protests that have swept the country since last week.

The British position echoed that of the United States and France, close allies of Lebanon which have voiced exasperation at delays in enacting reforms and fighting corruption.

Protesters expressing outrage at the country's ruling elite have called for their resignation and the return of money they say has been looted from the state.

Lebanese leaders are discussing a possible government reshuffle to defuse the unprecedented protests that have shut down banks, schools, and roadways, government sources said on Wednesday.

"A week after these protests started, the Lebanese people have expressed legitimate frustrations, which must be heard. This is an important moment for Lebanon: the necessary reforms should be implemented urgently," the British embassy tweet said.

The United States said on Wednesday it supported the right of protesters to demonstrate peacefully and said the Lebanese people were "rightfully angered" over their government's refusal to tackle corruption.

France also urged Beirut to carry out the reforms, considered key to unlocking some $11 billion in financing pledged by Western donor countries and lending institutions last year.

Protesters have said they are not satisfied with emergency reform measures announced this week that include halving ministers' salaries and taxes on banks.

"The UK will continue to support a secure, stable, sovereign and prosperous Lebanon, including a stronger and fairer economy, quality education for all, improved services, and enhanced security," said a second tweet from the UK embassy.

Protests in Lebanon entered a second week on Thursday with demonstrators blocking main roads in Beirut and other parts of the country.

Sparked on October 17 by a proposed tax on calls made through messaging apps, the protests have morphed into a cross-sectarian street mobilization against a political system seen as corrupt and broken.

On Thursday morning, demonstrators set up roadblocks around the capital.

One major east-west artery was blocked by a dozen young protesters, who pitched tents in the middle of the road.

Sitting on the pavement with a red and white keffiyeh on his shoulders, a 30-year-old who had trained as a chef, said he had been protesting since the first day.

"We're here closing the main road to stop some movement in this country," he said, asking not to be identified.

"People think we're playing but we're actually asking for our most basic rights: water, food, electricity, healthcare, pensions, medicine, schooling," he told AFP.

Embattled Prime Minister Saad Hariri has presented a package of reforms, including cutting ministerial salaries, but the rallies have continued, crippling Beirut and other major cities.

President Michel Aoun was expected to speak later in the day.

On Wednesday, Hariri held meetings with security and military leaders, stressing the need to maintain security and open roads, the state-run National News Agency reported.

More than a quarter of Lebanon's population lives in poverty, according to the World Bank.

Almost three decades after the end of Lebanon's civil war, the political deadlock has stymied efforts to tackle mounting economic woes which have been compounded by the eight-year civil war in neighboring Syria.

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