Lebanon’s price hike – ‘start of more protests’

Image copyright Getty Images Image caption The Lebanese Central Bank is in crisis as inflation in the Middle East is amongst the highest in the world Hundreds of protesters blocked roads in Lebanon on…

Lebanon's price hike - 'start of more protests'

Image copyright Getty Images Image caption The Lebanese Central Bank is in crisis as inflation in the Middle East is amongst the highest in the world

Hundreds of protesters blocked roads in Lebanon on Friday in a sign of growing resentment in a country struggling to pull itself out of economic collapse.

Tens of thousands marched in Beirut, Tripoli and other towns to demand reform.

Taxes have doubled and subsidies for gas and diesel have been cut to ease a national budget deficit.

This has provoked anger, especially in Lebanon’s impoverished north, where wages have been slashed and wages for workers earning less than $500 (£385) have been halved.

Restaurants in Beirut and other towns were closed in protest.

The demonstrations were sparked in mid-April by residents of the northern port city of Tripoli, who rallied against reforms that they say are driving up the cost of living.

“The protests that have just happened are the start of more of a series of protests,” said one protester in Beirut, speaking on condition of anonymity because he feared retribution.

“This is only the start. And it’s not going to end. This is a victory but we are not finished.”

Image copyright AFP Image caption Pedestrians walk in Tahrir Square

As economic reforms kick in, Lebanon has had to close hundreds of schools and reduce the hours of many public buildings. Thousands of labourers have also been made redundant.

According to the World Bank, inflation in the Middle East was among the highest in the world last year, at 13.1%.

Economists say revenue and expenditure cannot be balanced in the absence of reforms.

Protesters gathered in Hamra Street, in downtown Beirut, saying the government was afraid to confront the problem.

“How is it that a country of 5 million is able to spend 38 billion dinars a year on subsidies, police and military”, said one man at the march.

Image copyright Reuters Image caption Traders sit in the street after a demonstration in Marjayoun.

Shops in the capital Beirut had shut during the protests, reports said.

“When the people rise up there is no army, no police,” read the banners.

The government has agreed to increase taxes and cut subsidies but the Finance Minister, Ali Hassan Khalil, has said the measures will still have to be implemented.

Clashes have broken out in Tripoli between police and gunmen, reports said.

Police closed roads around the Lebanese parliament on Friday and blocked the entrance to a police headquarters that had come under attack from demonstrators on Thursday.

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