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Protesters take various grieviances to the streets of Beirut

Image used for illustrative purpose. Teachers wave Lebanese national flags during a protest at the Grand Serail, the government headquarters in Beirut February 19, 2013. The teachers' Union Coordination Committee (UCC) announced an open-ended strike from Tuesday after the Cabinet failed to assemble on Monday to ratify a long-awaited wage hike to be sent to parliament for its approval.      REUTERS/Sharif Karim

Image used for illustrative purpose. Teachers wave Lebanese national flags during a protest at the Grand Serail, the government headquarters in Beirut February 19, 2013. The teachers' Union Coordination Committee (UCC) announced an open-ended strike from Tuesday after the Cabinet failed to assemble on Monday to ratify a long-awaited wage hike to be sent to parliament for its approval. REUTERS/Sharif Karim

Reuters/Sharif Karim

20 March 2017

BEIRUT: Hundreds of protesters took to Beirut’s streets over the weekend following a week marked by civic anger and frustration over various issues.

COMMUNIST PARTY REJECTS NEW TAXES The Communist Party mobilized hundreds of supporters Saturday, with demonstrators descending on the Central Bank in Hamra to express their rejection of the new taxes being proposed to fund the salary scale bill.

“The [price] increases on daily food supplies and goods will be unbearable,” a 50-year-old widow and mother of three told The Daily Star. “What am I supposed to do? Do I steal to feed my children?’’ she asked.

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The government plans to increase the value added tax from 10 percent to 11 percent, a measure which is meant to generate an additional $200 million in revenue for the treasury annually.

“They imposed taxes and they have not granted people their rights,” Hanna Gharib, the head of the Lebanese Communist Party said, blaming state officials for the financial crisis. “These policies have led the Lebanese to poverty.”

The tax increases will serve to fund a new salary scale bill estimated to cost LL1.2 trillion ($800 million).

“We want to build a different state,” Gharib said. “I urge all Lebanese to go down to the streets and demand their rights.”

The protesters Saturday called for taxes to be imposed on banks and corporations, rather than on individual tax payers.

One sign read, “Towards change: Force cumulative taxes on the rich to fund public services.”

Participants waved the Communist Party flag and chanted its anthems, calling for secularism to triumph over sectarianism.MOTHERS RALLY

AT RELIGIOUS COURT Dozens gathered Saturday in front of the Higher Islamic Shiite Council, south of Beirut, to decry what they described as infringements on women’s custody rights.

Activists from Protecting Lebanese Women called on the Shiite religious authority to lift the minimum age of paternal custody for the children of divorced couples.

In the Shiite sect, fathers automatically gain full custody of boys aged 2 or over. Daughters are allowed to remain in the mother’s custody until they reach the age of 7.

Family law in Lebanon falls mostly under the jurisdiction of religious courts. Each sect thus sets its own legislation regarding marriage, divorce, child custody and, for Muslims, inheritance.

The protesters Saturday also denounced perceived corruption in the religious courts. “Corruption lies under the turbans,” one banner held by a protester read.

The rally came following the recent decision by a religious court judge to allow a mother, Rita Choucair – who is estranged from her husband – to see her 2-year-old son, Adam, for three hours each week, until a final decision is made on the matter.

“Custody is a right that should be given to Rita and every mother,” one protester’s sign read.

CALLING FOR CONSERVATION OF HORSH BEIRUT Dozens of environmental activists gathered Saturday around Beirut’s municipal building to protest a proposal that would eliminate the last vestige of green space in the capital.

“The decisions taken by the municipality, such as establishing a hospital in Horsh Beirut’s premises ... and using Horsh Beirut ... to build a football stadium that adheres to international standards are completely unacceptable,” Mohammad Ayoub, the head of Nahnoo, told The Daily Star during the protest.

Nahnoo, a nonsectarian and nonpartisan youth organization aimed at community development and youth civic empowerment, is among the NGOs at the forefront of advocacy campaigns calling for the preservation of public spaces around Lebanon. “We won’t back down. We are dealing with a government that doesn’t fulfill our needs except under pressure, and [applying pressure is] exactly what we are doing,” Ayoub said.

Souad al-Dani, a mother of five, harangued the government, accusing the Lebanese state of hindering her children’s development. “The lack of [green] spaces for [the children] to be wild in is absolutely killing their creativity,” she said. “Kids all use their iPads for about four hours a day.”

Sahar Badreddine, a 22-year-old medical laboratory student, called for the preservation of green spaces as a matter of public health.

“Without green spaces that people can enjoy to relieve stress, [people] are more likely to get sick,” she said.

© Copyright The Daily Star 2017.

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