Lebanon students skip classes for 3rd day to demand change - GulfToday

Lebanon students skip classes for 3rd day to demand change


Students wave flags and raise slogans as they protest against the government in Beirut on Friday. Associated Press

Thousands of high school students across Lebanon skipped classes on Friday for a third day in a row to carry on the flame of the country’s anti-graft movement.

Lebanon has since Oct.17 been gripped by massive cross-sectarian protests demanding a complete revamping of a political system they say is corrupt and inept. With youth unemployment running at over 30 per cent, school students have joined en masse since Wednesday demanding a better country so they don’t have to emigrate.

In Beirut, a teenage student who gave her name as Qamar was among thousands of pupils chanting slogans outside the ministry of education on Friday.

“So what if we lose a school year compared to our entire future?” she said. “I don’t want to study in Lebanon and then have to travel abroad” to find a job.

Around her, students waved red-green-and-white Lebanese flags, as others set off yellow, green, blue and purple flares into the sky.

“We missed classes to kick you’re a***s,” read one poster in English.

Another poster in rhyming Arabic said: “No studying or teaching, until the president falls.”

Across Lebanon, students protested outside state institutions and banks including in the southern city of Saida, Tripoli in the north and the east’s Baalbek.

What started as a spontaneous and leaderless movement has become more organised in recent days, with protesters targeting institutions viewed as particularly inefficient or corrupt.

Early on Friday, dozens of activists and retired army officers for the first time briefly closed down the entrance to Beirut’s port.

Among them, music producer Zeid Hamdan, 43, had come to denounce what he viewed as a customs collection system riddled with corruption.

“As a musician whenever I bring an instrument into the country, I pay 40 per cent of it” to customs, he said, sporting a light beard and wearing sunglasses.

“It stays stuck in the port for weeks. You need connections, to bribe everybody to get it out,” he said.

Lebanon’s cabinet stepped down last week but no official consultations have started on forming a new government, and outgoing premier Saad Hariri remains in a caretaker capacity.

The World Bank has urged Lebanon to form a new government quickly, warning of the threat of a further economic downturn in a country where almost a third of the population lives in poverty.

Meanwhile, hospitals in protest-wracked Lebanon threatened to stop receiving patients over a dollar shortage impeding medicine imports.

For two decades until several weeks ago, the Lebanese dollar has been pegged to the greenback, and both currencies were used interchangeably in daily life.

But banks have gradually been reducing access to dollars since the end of the summer.

Hospital syndicate head Suleiman Haroun said unpaid bills and a lack of access to the US currency meant the situation could deteriorate fast.

Current medical “stocks in the country will not last more than a month,” Haroun warned, in a statement carried by the National News Agency.

We “request banks to facilitate money transfers in US dollars for importers of medical supplies,” he said.

If not, “hospitals will as a warning for a single day on Friday, Nov.15, stop receiving all patients except emergency cases” including for dialysis and chemotherapy, he said.

He also called on the state to pay pending bills to hospitals and doctors working under the health ministry.

Banks in Lebanon have in recent days halted all ATM withdrawals in dollars and severely restricted any conversions from Lebanese pounds to dollars.

Most Lebanese are instead having to buy the dollars from money changers at a higher exchange rate, in what amounts to the de-facto devaluation of the local currency that has sparked price hikes.

Haroun’s warning came after almost 100 medical stock importers on Saturday warned medical supplies would run out in a month.

They urged the central bank to provide them with key dollars to bring in life-saving equipment and medicine, and called on the state to speed up payment of accruals amounting to more than $1.4 billion.

Agence France-Presse

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