BEIRUT – Thousands of people protested in Beirut on Thursday against government administration of a terrible economy in one of Lebanon's biggest protests in years, prompting the Cabinet to pull a new rate proposed in calls by WhatsApp.
Protesters blocked roads across Lebanon with burning tires, the transmissions showed. For the second time in less than a month, Lebanon saw demonstrations expressing anger at the political elite.
The demonstrations were fueled by stagnant economic conditions, exacerbated by a financial crisis in one of the world's most indebted states. The government is trying to find ways to reduce its budget deficit.
Earlier, the Cabinet had issued a new revenue increase measure, agreeing to charge 20 cents a day for Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) calls used by applications such as Facebook-owned WhatsApp, Facebook, and FaceTime, Information Minister Jamal. Jarrah said.
He also said that ministers are discussing a proposal to increase value added tax by 2 percentage points in 2021 and 2 percentage points in 2022 to 15%.
But when the protests spread across Lebanon, Telecommunications Minister Mohamed Choucair called Lebanese broadcasters to say that the proposed WhatsApp call rate had been revoked.
Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri said the move is expected to generate about $ 200 million in revenue for the state each year, according to a statement from his press office.
Lebanon has only two mobile providers, both state-owned and some of the most expensive mobile tariffs in the region.
"We are not here for WhatsApp, we are here for everything: for fuel, food, bread, for everything," said a protester in Beirut who named him Abdullah.
Protesters fought with security forces in Beirut. "People want to overthrow the regime," some sang.
Lebanon is under pressure to approve the 2020 budget soon, a move that could help release about $ 11 billion pledged at a donor conference last year, contingent on tax and other reforms.
The government has declared a state of "economic emergency" as Lebanon faces debt burdens, low growth, crumbling infrastructure and tensions in its financial system due to slowing capital flows.
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