Lebanon erupted in large-scale 'Arab Spring' style protests starting Thursday night into Friday, marked by number of massive fires and makeshift roadblocks which could be seen going up in Beirut, in what international reports are calling the biggest cross-sectarian anti-government uprising in years. At least two bystanders have died, one protester killed, and over 60 police wounded.
The protests were reportedly triggered based on the announcement of a legislative bill to tax people $6 a month for using the popular WhatApp messaging platform, but have grown into broader demands that political leaders step aside over the country's worsening economic crisis and lack of jobs.
For this reason Lebanese daily al-Akhbar dubbed the protests "the WhatsApp revolution" and with others calling it "a tax intifada". Chants could be heard in Arabic of "the people want the downfall of the regime" from crowds described as containing a broad cross-section of Lebanese society, whether Christian, Sunni or Shia.
Police clashed with thousands of demonstrators in Beirut throughout Friday who lit tires on fire and in some cases charged government buildings and damaged shop-fronts.
"We're not here over WhatsApp - we're here over everything, fuel, food, bread, everything."— Al Jazeera English (@AJEnglish) October 18, 2019
Thousands have taken to the streets in Lebanon as anger grows over gov't tax plans amid an economic crisis in the country #اجا_وقت_نحاسب pic.twitter.com/JzMfLp9pom
Multiple reports have put Lebanese unemployment among those aged under 35 at a staggering 37%.
At the same time Lebanese political leaders have been broadly accused of dipping into public coffers to enrich themselves and entrench their positions.
Tensions were already high when on Thursday a government minister revealed a plan to boost state revenues with a daily tax rate on calls made via voice over internet protocol (VoIP), utilized by applications such as Facebook-owned WhatsApp.
Beirut, Baalbek, Tripoli, Saida. Historical night. pic.twitter.com/xHS92xfSLD— Ali (@Ali_Kourani) October 17, 2019
The country has also lately suffered a severe slowdown in capital flows, and difficulty of importers securing dollars at the pegged exchange rate. Prime Minister Saad Hariri is expected to address the crisis Friday in a televised speech.
Currently multiple main routes through the Lebanese capital have been shutdown due to makeshift roadblocks, as clashes with police continue, and with roads accessing Lebanon's main international airport also blocked.
Police have deployed tear gas and other riot control measures against crowds described in the tens of thousands.
Lebanon's state-run National News Agency reported Friday that two foreign workers died from spoke inhalation after protesters set large fires, and 60 members of Lebanon's Internal Security Forces (ISF) have been wounded.
Reuters has also reported the first protester's death in clashes with police, which happened in the northern city of Tripoli, the country's second largest.
Live from Beirut, Lebanon in the anti-government protests that were triggered by an absurd government attempt to add taxes to WhatsApp!— هادي نصرالله (@HadiNasrallah) October 18, 2019
Lebanese forces fired tear gas on the Lebanese civilians protesting corruption.
The Lebanese regime lost its legitimacy.
Stay strong Lebanon pic.twitter.com/UWLDpriFNa
According to the Reuters report:
Across the country, they chanted for top leaders, including President Michel Aoun, Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri and Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri to step down.
The mood was a mixture of rage, defiance and hope.
A security source said one protester was killed and four wounded after the bodyguards of a former member of parliament fired into the air in the northern city of Tripoli.
Security authorities have condemned what they called "chaos and violence" unleashed on the streets and urged calm.