Lebanon newspaper goes black to raise alarm over political crisis

AFP , Thursday 8 Aug 2019

People walk past a shop selling newspapers in Beirut, Lebanon, Thursday, Aug. 8, 2019 (Photo: AP)

A prominent Lebanese daily Thursday appeared on newsstands with a black front page in the second such protest by a local paper in less than a year over the country's lingering political crisis.

"Lebanon," read the cover of The Daily Star, the country's only English-language newspaper.

On 10 blank pages inside, it listed a string of woes including "government deadlock", "pollution" "unemployment", "illegal weapons" and "public debt".

"Wake up before it's too late!" it concluded on its back page, with the issue's single picture of a cedar, the country's national emblem.

The newspaper's Lebanon and online editor Joseph Haboush said the move sought to convey alarm to the ruling class.

"We wanted to deliver a warning to the politicians and officials that the situation has reached an alarming level," he said.

In October last year, the country's oldest newspaper An-Nahar printed an entirely blank issue to protest a political deadlock over forming a cabinet.

The government was formed in January after an eight-month hiatus, but the cabinet has now not met for over a month since a shootout killed a minister's two bodyguards.

In a rare comment, the US embassy on Wednesday warned against any inflammation of tensions over the incident in Qabr el-Shamoun on June 30.

"The US has conveyed in clear terms to Lebanese authorities our expectation that they will handle this matter in a way that achieves justice without politically motivated inflammation of sectarian or communal tensions," it said.

Growth in Lebanon has plummeted in the wake of endless political deadlocks in recent years, compounded by the 2011 breakout of civil war in neighbouring Syria.

The country hosts 1.5 million Syrians who have fled the conflict, often blamed in Lebanon for putting pressure on an already struggling economy.

Unemployment stands at more than 20 percent, according to the government.

Lebanon is one of the world's most indebted countries, with public debt now standing at more than 150 percent of GDP, according to the finance ministry.

Successive governments have been unable to address a waste management crisis or improve an electricity grid that causes daily power cuts, a phenomenon that has long outlived Lebanon's 1975-1990 civil war.

The print media has also been facing a crisis, with several publications either closing or disappearing in print.

A source at the Daily Star who asked not to be named said employees had not yet been paid wages for June and July.

The Daily Star is a private newspaper owned by the family of Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri, according to press watchdog Reporters Without Borders.

Since July 30, staff at the Hariri-owned Future TV have gone on strike over unpaid salaries, with only re-runs aired for around a week.

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