Thousands of striking Lebanese students have marched through Beirut’s streets demanding more government spending on the country's only public university.
More than 10,000 students and lecturers marched on Thursday to the downtown Grand Serail, which holds the office of Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri, in downtown Beirut.
Converging from the four corners of the country, the demonstrators shouted protests as they marched peacefully.
The students called for more funding to modernise the university’s old buildings and professors demanded better benefits.
As proof of the gravity of the situation, all the political movements, from the Shia Hizb Allah to Christians showed up
for the demonstration, one of the largest since the end of the country's 15-year civil war in 1990.
"Muslims and Christians, all united to save the university of
the poor," said the protestors.
It was one of the biggest protests
since the end of the civil war
The Lebanese University hosts more than 70,000 students, mostly from middle class and poor families who cannot afford the country’s expensive private universities. A full-year costs about $200, while studying in a private university can cost up to $13,000 a year.
The university's some 3000 professors have been on strike for more than four weeks. They are demanding 2.3 billion Lebanese pounds ($1.7 million) in arrears and better funding.
Lebanon is counting on serious belt-tightening to help ease a public debt which some estimate is $40 billion. At close to 175% of GDP, the debt is strangling growth and consuming most government revenues.
Beirut is hoping a series of planned privatisations will slash the debt but political bickering has caused lengthy delays.
The protest, called by instructors, comes after more than four weeks of open strikes in Lebanese University branches countrywide.
Demonstrators also hope for improved teaching conditions. The level of teaching has greatly declined in recent years, threatening the public university's survival, while private universities abound with many of them funded by religious missions.
UL is up against prestigious competitors, such as Universite Saint-Joseph and the American University of Beirut, where tuition fees can reach $13,000.
"No to Muslim and Christian universities, yes to a democratic
and national university," the demonstrators shouted.