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Lebanon Business Group Urges General Strike to Push for End to Crisis

Lebanon Business Group Urges General Strike to Push for End to Crisis

Tuesday, 26 November, 2019 - 06:30
Lebanese soldiers stand near a motorcycle that was set on fire by protesters, during a clash between Hezbollah and Amal supporters and anti-government protesters, in Beirut, Nov. 25, 2019. (AP)

A major Lebanese business group called on Monday for a three-day general strike to press divided politicians to form a government and end a crisis that has brought the economy to a standstill.

Lebanon has faced five weeks of protests, fueled by anger at corruption among sectarian politicians who have governed for decades. Demonstrators want to see the entire ruling class gone from power.

Despite the unprecedented protests, which led to the resignation of Prime Minister Saad Hariri on October 29 and exacerbated the economic crisis, deeply divided politicians have yet to agree on a new government.

The Lebanese Economic Bodies group, which includes industrialists and bankers, called for the closure of private institutions from Thursday to Saturday to push major parties to form a new government and avert further economic damage.

“The political forces have not assumed their national responsibilities and have not shown the seriousness necessary to produce solutions to the current crisis,” it said.

Banks reopened last week after mostly being shut since unrest began on October 17.

Fearing capital flight and amid a hard currency shortage, commercial banks have placed tight restrictions on withdrawals and transfers abroad.

It was not clear if any banks would heed the strike call.

The hard currency shortage has spawned a black market where the price for dollars has surged since the start of unrest, reaching over 2,000 pounds to the dollar on Monday, about a third higher than the pegged rate of 1,507.5.

In its statement, the Economic Bodies group said its “escalation” would continue until a new government was formed, with further steps to be announced.

The strike call came hours after clashes on a Beirut roadway between supporters of the Hezbollah and Amal groups and anti-government protesters, raising the specter of violence in protests that have been overwhelmingly peaceful.

Supporters of Hezbollah and Amal have sought to reopen roads and get protesters to go home.

Adding to tensions, two people were killed when their car slammed into a traffic barrier and burst into flames on a coastal road in the early hours of Monday, security sources said.

Sporadic clashes also erupted late on Monday.

A video posted by Lebanese broadcaster LBCI showed heavy gunfire around Cola bridge in Beirut. The source of the gunfire was not immediately clear. No injuries were reported.

In the southern town of Tyre, supporters of Hezbollah and Amal tore up protest tents and set them on fire, prompting security forces to intervene and fire into the air, according to Lebanese media.

Supporters of Amal and the Iran-backed Hezbollah have occasionally sought to break up the demonstrations and clear roads cut off by protesters. They destroyed a main protest camp in central Beirut last month.

The groups were influential in the coalition government led by Hariri. They had opposed Hariri’s resignation.

In a statement, Hariri’s Future Movement warned its supporters to refrain from protesting and stay away from large gatherings to “avoid being dragged into any provocation intended to ignite strife.”

Groups of men on motorcycles, some waving Amal and Hezbollah flags, were seen roving streets in Beirut and Tyre, according to witnesses and videos broadcast on Lebanese media.

In a statement, Lebanon’s Supreme Islamic Shiite Council urged security forces to take stronger actions to protect citizens and freedom of movement.

Lebanon’s army has sought to keep roads open but has pledged to use peaceful means.

Lebanon is facing the worst economic strains since its 1975-1990 civil war.

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