Protesters march in Lebanon to reject new government

Hundreds of Lebanese marched through the streets of the capital and the main northern city to reject a new government named to deal with an economic crisis which they say lacks a popular mandate

BEIRUT -- Hundreds of Lebanese marched on Saturday through the streets of the capital and the main northern city to reject a new government named to deal with an economic crisis, which they say lacks a popular mandate.

The new government named in January came after weeks of political stalemate and amid nationwide protests while Lebanon grappled with an unprecedented economic crisis.

Backed by the two main blocs in parliament, the government is awaiting a vote of confidence, which it is likely to get. But protesters say the government is an extension of traditional political parties they have denounced as corrupt.

“We are here today and every day ... to say no confidence,” a protester who read a joint statement for the rallies said. It said the protesters won't give another chance “to those who robbed them of their dreams, impoverished them, forced them to migrate, and humiliated them.” They vowed to keep up the pressure against a ruling class ”that controls decision-making and resources."

Lebanon's nationwide protests broke out Oct. 17 after a summer of discontent over a slumping economy and an austerity budget. The protests, sparked by proposals for new taxes, snowballed into demands for the ruling elite to step aside.

Lebanon's ruling class has been in power since the end of the 1975-90 civil war, including some of its warlords. Protesters accuse them of mismanaging Lebanon's wealth and of widespread corruption.

The new 20-member government of Prime Minister Hassan Diab was announced in late January but protests continued.

In recent weeks, demonstrations have turned violent as frustration rose. Security forces and protesters clashed outside the country's parliament and the central bank in pitched street battles that left hundreds injured. Rights groups denounced the security forces' use of rubber bullets to disperse the crowds. Over the last week, security forces erected blast walls around parliament and other government buildings, sealing them off from protesters and turning central Beirut into a fortified security zone.

On Saturday, protesters marched through the streets of Beirut and Tripoli, in the north, carrying banners against corruption and declaring “no confidence” in the new government. They stopped at the central bank, the Finance Ministry and the Banks Association before reaching central Beirut. The protesters gathered by the blast walls outside the parliament and the government building before dispersing peacefully.

Lebanon has one of the world's highest public debts, standing at more than 150% of gross domestic product. Growth has plummeted and the budget deficit reached 11% of GDP in 2 018 as economic activities slowed and remittances from Lebanese living abroad shrank.

The national currency, which has been pegged to the dollar since 1997, lost about 60% of its value in recent weeks, sparking a run on banks which responded with limits on cash withdrawals and transfers.