Lebanon opposition backs sit-ins

Union protest at economic plans seen as way to extend effort to topple government.

    Hezbollah supporters are protesting to bring down the Lebanese government [AFP] 

    Talal Arsalan, the Druze leader and former minister of state, said: "The opposition ... adopts the call to protest in front of the VAT office tomorrow on Tuesday at 11am (09:00 GMT) and calls on all Lebanese to participate in it."


    "The opposition has also decided to escalate its popular movements and turn Tuesday's protest into a daily escalation that extends to all the ministries and public facilities to achieve all its demand."


    The Shia Muslim Hezbollah, a movement backed by Syria and Iran, is the driving force of the opposition, which also includes Christian and some Druze and Sunni figures.


    More protests


    On Saturday, the Lebanese Confederation of Trade Unions called on the people of Lebanon to join a sit-in on Tuesday outside a ministry of finance office in Beirut to protest against the economic programme of Fouad Siniora, the prime minister.


    "Every day there will be something new ... We will not exempt any ministry or any facility after today" 

    - Michel Aoun, former Lebanese Christian general

    Michel Aoun, the former Christian general, said after the opposition meeting at his home: "Every day there will be something new ... We will not exempt any ministry or any facility after today." 


    A political source close to the opposition said there would be a protest at the ministry of water and energy on Wednesday and another one at the ministry of information on Thursday.


    Last week, the government announced an economic plan to be presented to an international donors' conference in Paris this month, which Beirut hopes will bring financial help to its economy, which was ruined by war with Israel last summer. The plan includes tax reforms, including increasing VAT rates, and privatisation.


    The main labour union rejected the tax increases and privatisation efforts, which it says would take away workers' rights.


    The economic plan, which aims to boost growth and ease the burden of Lebanon's huge public debt, will be presented at the "Paris 3" donor conference on January 25.


    The conference is sponsored by France, the European Union, the United States and the United Nations.


    Lebanon's debt is estimated at $41bn dollars.


    Opposition intensifies


    Protesters have been camped outside prime minister Siniora's offices in central Beirut since December 1 in an opposition campaign to topple the government, but Siniora, a Sunni Muslim backed by the United States and Saudi Arabia, has resisted the opposition's demands.


    The latest action in the opposition's campaign comes after the failure of another diplomatic attempt to break the deadlock. The stand-off has fuelled tension between Sunni and Shia Muslims.


    Sami Haddad, Lebanon’s economy and trade minister, said on Sunday the protest actions were politically motivated and would only further damage the economy.


    "This programme is everybody's programme, it's not the programme of the majority against the opposition," he said. 

    SOURCE: Agencies


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