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Thursday, 12 December 2019

TIMELINE: One week of post-wildfire protests in Lebanon

Ahram Online offers a timeline for the key events that happened in Lebanon throughout the past week

Bassem Aly , Thursday 24 Oct 2019
Lebanese
Lebanese people take cover from the rain under umbrellas as they watch a televised speech by President Michel Aoun, during a demonstration on the eighth day of protest against tax increases and official corruption, in Zouk Mosbeh, north of the capital Beirut, on October 24, 2019. (Photo: AFP)
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Last week was a tough one for Lebanon. The country saw wildfires, followed by large-scale protests in different cities against the coalition government amid tough socio-economic conditions.

Protesters, from diverse religious backgrounds, are chanting "the people demand the fall of the regime," a call that was repeatedly echoed in the majority of Arab Spring states in 2011.

Ahram Online offers a timeline for the key events that happened in Lebanon throughout the past week.

Lebanese
Protesters stand with Lebanese national flags before Lebanese army soldiers along the side of the Beirut-Jounieh highway in the northern Beirut suburb of Jal el-Dib amidst on the seventh day of protest against tax increases and official corruption, on October 23, 2019. - The almost one-week-old massive street protests in Lebanon, sparked by a tax on messaging services such as WhatsApp, have morphed into a united condemnation of a political system seen as corrupt and beyond repair (Photo: AP)

16 October:

Due to a heatwave, preceded by strong winds a day earlier, wildfires eat up the forests across Lebanon and three provinces in Syria.

The majority of homes situated near the fires were damaged and the residents were forced to evacuate. According to Lebanese authorities, some Lebanese did not succeed in getting out.

The wildfires were the worst Lebanon had seen in years, and the government was heavily criticised for its poor emergency management.

17 October:

Anti-government demonstrations across the country begin. They erupted in Beirut, including the southern parts of the capital, Sidon, Tripoli and the Beqaa Valley.

The fires pushed the people to take to the streets, but the worsening economic conditions were the major propeller.

On that day, Information Minister Jamal Jarrah said that people who use apps such as Viber and WhatsApp to make calls will pay a 20-cent daily fee starting January 2020. The parliament approved an austerity budget in July, and the government is expected to increase taxes in the coming months as part of next year's budget.

18 October:

Demonstrators block roads in the north, south and the Beqaa Valley, among other areas.

They called on the government to resign. "We don't want just a resignation. We want them to be held accountable. They should return all the money they stole. We want change," one of the protesters told Reuters.

Foreign minister Gebran Bassil urged the government not to impose new taxes, end corruption and embark on reforms, but he refused the protesters' demand for government resignation.

Prime Minister Saad Al-Hariri gave the government 72 hours to embrace reforms and solve Lebanon's economic crisis.

"There are those who placed obstacles in front of me since the government was formed, and in the face of all the efforts that I have proposed for reform," Al-Hariri said.

"Whatever the solution, we no longer have time and I am personally giving myself only a little time. Either our partners in government and in the nation give a frank response to the solution, or I will have another say."

Lebanese
Lebanese demonstrators block a highway leading to the Lebanese capital Beirut on October 24, 2019. (Photo: AFP)

19 October:

Samir Geagea, head of the Christian Lebanese Forces Party, announces his party's withdrawal from the government.

"We are now convinced that the government is unable to take the necessary steps to save the situation," Geagea said. "Therefore, the bloc decided to ask its ministers to resign from the government."

Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah said "we don't want the resignation of the government if the resignation means there is no government," stressing, however, that imposing new taxes cannot be the solution.

20 October:

Al-Hariri's government announces a bundle of economic reforms, including 50 percent cut in salaries of current and former presidents, ministers and parliamentarians. The government will also reduce benefits for state bodies and officials.

It also includes a $3.3 billion contribution, to be provided by the central bank and private banks, to reach a "near zero deficit" for the 2020 budget, in addition to privatising the telecommunications sector, and solving Lebanon's severe electricity problem.

These moves, nonetheless did not end the political deadlock. Protesters remained in Lebanon's streets on a daily basis.

23 October:

The Lebanese army vows to do its best in order to open the main roads blocked by protesterss.


24 October:

Lebanese President Michel Aoun broke his silence after a week of unprecedented protests expressing willingness to meet demonstrators.

"I am ready to meet your representatives... to hear your demands," he said in a short televised speech, his first since daily street protests began on October 17.

He also left the door open to a possible cabinet reshuffle.

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