Under-fire Lebanon cabinet approves economic reforms on fifth day of protests

AFP , Monday 21 Oct 2019

Lebanon's Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri speaks during a news conference after a cabinet session at the Baabda palace, Lebanon October 21, 2019. (Reuters)

Lebanon's cabinet Monday approved a raft of economic reforms and agreed on the 2020 budget, Prime Minister Saad Hariri said, after growing protests fuelled calls for his government's resignation.

Speaking in a televised press conference after a cabinet meeting, the premier said the measures were not merely an attempt to quell demonstrations.

"These decisions are not designed as a trade-off. They are not to ask you to stop expressing your anger. That is your decision to make," he said.

"Your movement is what led to these decisions that you see today," he added.

The protests which started five days ago over tax hikes have evolved into an unprecedented push to remove Lebanon's entire political leadership.

Hariri said that he supported the demonstrators' call for early elections.

"We have heard you. If your demand is early parliamentary elections, it is your voice only that decides. I, Saad Hariri, am with you in this demand."

Last year, Lebanon held its first parliamentary polls in nine years after the deeply divided legislature repeatedly extended its own term.

But the May 2018 vote failed to shake up the multi-confessional country's entrenched ruling class.

It saw veteran parliamentary speaker Nabih Berri elected to a sixth consecutive term.

The president renamed Hariri as premier, but he then struggled for more than eight months to form a coalition government.

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