Thousands of Lebanese took to the streets nationwide, in one of the biggest protests the country has witnessed since 2015, following the government's announcement to introduce new taxes, including a $0.20 levy per day for WhatsApp calls.
Protesters gathered in the Riyad al-Soleh Square Thursday night around 7 p.m. as security forces attempted to disperse protesters, by batons, rubber bullets and tear gas.
Demonstrations were then reignited early Friday morning in what started as peaceful by dozens, soon multiplied into thousands marching around Beirut streets and blocking roads in burning tires.
Riots followed the Cabinet’s proposal of a hike in the value added tax from 11 to 15 percent and introduction of new fees such as imposing a $0.20 fee on WhatsApp calls per day. It also came two days after the worst wildfires broke out across the country upon which citizens blamed the government for its shortcomings.
Following Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s request, Telecommunications Minister Mohammed Choucair revoked the Whatsapp call fee decision.
Two Syrian nationals were reported dead and nearly 200 injured in the protests including 60 police officers as stated by the Internal Security Forces.
The Lebanese Red Cross reported that 22 people were taken to the hospitals, and around 70 people were treated on the ground during the protests.
Banks, schools and universities were closed Friday as authorities feared escalation.
The unrest led Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri to cancel a cabinet meeting due on Friday to discuss the 2020 draft budget. He will instead make a speech on the protests.
Roads across the country from eastern Bekaa Valley, to Jeita, Zouk Mikael, Zouk Mosbeh, Jbeil, Nabatieh, Jal el Dib, Dora-Jounieh highway, Sawfar, Baalbeck, Taalabaya, Sidon, Tyre, both sides of the Chtaura-Zahle road, Ghazir, Batroun-Tripoli road, Halba, Qobayat, al-Rouweissat intersection of the Metn Highway, Furn Chebek, Chevrolet, Tarshish-Zahle road among others remain blocked.