Parts of Lebanon go on strike to protest economic conditions

Some Lebanese sectors on strike called by unions over worsening economic conditions, delay in new government

Parts of Lebanon's public and private sectors went on a union-organized strike Friday to protest worsening economic conditions and months of delay in the formation of a new government.

The one-day strike was called for by the General Confederation of Lebanese Workers, with the backing of the new cross-sectarian Sabaa Party.

It comes amid a political stalemate and an ongoing economic crisis. Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri has not been able to form a new government since parliamentary elections last May due to political bickering among rival groups.

A soaring debt of $84 billion, or 155 percent of the gross domestic product, and unemployment believed to be around 36 percent are compounding concerns that the country will finally cave in.

"The country is heading toward collapse ... this is what all the politicians are saying," said Victoria El Khoury Zwein, a co-founder of Sabaa. "What we are saying is that the country is in crisis and therefore we need a government that should be running affairs during this crisis and come up with a quick rescue plan."

Beirut's port was closed and so were several other state institutions, such as the National Social Security Fund and the electricity company, which had the gates to its compound closed with chains. Flights stopped for an hour in the morning at Beirut's Rafik Hariri International Airport.

"The strike is directed toward politicians who failed to produce a Cabinet," said Bechara Asmar, head of the General Confederation of Lebanese Workers. "Is demanding that a government to solve the problems a shame?"

However, Mohamad Shukeir, head of the chambers of commerce, industry and agriculture that represent the private sector, said Friday was a normal work day.