Lebanon breaks WhatsApp's fee for violent protests

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BEIRUT (Reuters) – The demonstrators and police made a conflict in Lebanon on Thursday as thousands of people came together against the government's handling of an economic crisis, in one of the country's biggest protests for many years.

The government supported plans, sometimes announced earlier, with tax voice calls made through the Facebook-owned WhatsApp messaging software because people put their anger on the political minority in the second national protest in less than a month.

Protesters blocked roads across Lebanon with tires and security forces burning fire friction by demonstrators in the center of Beirut early on Friday, said Lebanese media. Many people were injured, the Red Cross said. Lebanese internal security forces said 60 policemen were injured.

“I was sitting at home and I saw the people moving and so I came out,” said Cezar Shaaya, an accountant protesting in Beirut. “I am married, I am owed mortgage payments every month and I don't work. It is the fault of the state. ”

On Thursday night, crowds gathered in Riad al-Solainn's square, the capital, some waiving Lebanese flags and singing.

“The people want to bring the regime to a close,” they said.

Nearby, many of the young men on motorcycles took up a crossroads in a main crossing and set fire to some, some ripping out billboards to put them in the flames rising.

The protests have been the result of unfavorable economic conditions which have led to the emergence of a financial crisis in one of the world's most indebted states.

The government, which confirmed that there is an “economic crisis”, is looking for ways to reduce the impairment deficit.

One protester who burns tires in the southern village of Tel Nhasa said: “We are looking for jobs, because of our rights, electricity, water, we demand education”.

Lebanon has a high debt, steadily growing, at miniature infrastructure and reduced capital inflows. The Lebanese pound, which was opposed to the dollar for twenty years, was under pressure.

Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri's national unity government is seeking to approve the 2020 budget, a step that could help release the billions promised by international donors.

PHOTO FILE: General view of Beirut central area, Lebanon, 22 August, 2019. REUTERS / Mohamed Azakir / File File

But donors want Beirut to see long-delayed renovations to prevent waste and contamination.

“We're not here over the WhatsApp, we're here over everything: over fuel, food, bread, everything,” said a Barrett protester who gave his name as Abdullah.

The education ministry said schools would close Friday after the protests. Public administration employees affirmed a strike so that workers could be involved in protests expected on Friday.

The government unveiled a new revenue-raising measure earlier on Thursday, and a charge of 20 cent per day was agreed for calls via a voice-over-internet protocol (VoIP), which uses applications including WhatsApp, Facebook (FB.O) and FaceTime calls.

Minister Jamal al-Jarrah said ministers would also discuss a proposal to raise value added tax by 2 percentage points in 2021 and a further 2 percentage points in 2022, until it reached 15%.

But as disputes spread across Lebanon, Telecommunications Minister Mohamed Mercury told journalists that the proposed levy on WhatsApp calls had been revoked.

Hariri said that the measure is expected to clear around $ 200 million in revenue for the state each year.

Slideshow (3 Image)

There are only two state-owned mobile service providers in Lebanon, and some of the most expensive mobile rates in the region.

Finance Minister Ali Hassan Khalil said the draft budget he had submitted to Cabinet was free from new taxes and he remained committed to running a budget without new taxes.

Reporting by Ellen Francis and Reuters TV, Suleiman al-Khalidi and Eric Knecht in Beirut, Ahmed Tolba in Cairo; Writing with Tom Perry and Ellen Francis; Edited by Stephen Coates

Our Standards:The principles of Thomson Reuters Trust.

. Government / Politics (t) Technology (t) Technology (TRBC) (t) Major News (t) Lebanon (t) Europe (t) Middle East (t) Emerging Market Countries (t) Civil Unrest

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