Philippines embassy in Beirut urges Pinoys to take caution

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Philippines embassy in Beirut urges Pinoys to take caution

Pia Lee-Brago (The Philippine Star) – October 21, 2019 – 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — The Philippine embassy in Beirut urged Filipinos in Lebanon to take the necessary precautions in view of ongoing protests across the country.

In its recent advisory, the embassy asked Filipinos to stay away from areas where protests are taking place and to remain indoors as much as possible.

The embassy said there are currently no reports of Filipinos affected by the protests and that it would continue to monitor the situation and provide the corresponding public advisory, as necessary.

Demonstrators took to the streets to demand the resignation of government officials over corruption and the state of the country’s economy. They are also demanding a sweeping overhaul of Lebanon’s political system, citing grievances ranging from austerity measures to poor infrastructure.

Public anger has simmered since parliament passed an austerity budget in July to help trim a ballooning deficit and flared on Thursday over plans to tax calls on messaging applications, forcing the government to axe the unpopular measure.

Across the country, demonstrators chanted the popular refrain of the 2011 Arab Spring protests: “The people demand the fall of the regime.”

Protesters in the capital blocked the road to the airport with burning tires, prompting a heavy deployment by security forces.

Near government headquarters in central Beirut, violent confrontations broke out between protesters and security forces as demonstrators tried to storm the building.

Security forces fired tear gas to disperse protesters, after the Internal Security Forces (ISF) said clashes wounded 40 of its members.

Protesters also sparked a large blaze near the Mohammad al-Amin mosque in downtown Beirut.

“We elected them and we will remove them from power,” one protester told a local TV station.

“What unites us is the standard of living – we are all destroyed,” said another.

Besides the capital Beirut, protests erupted in the southern city of Sidon, the northern city of Tripoli and the Bekaa Valley, before spreading to other areas, the state-run National News Agency reported.

Telecommunications Minister Mohammad Choucair said the government had reversed its decision to tax calls on messaging apps following the unrest.

The government is weighing a series of further belt-tightening measures it hopes will rescue the ailing economy and secure $11 billion in aid pledged by international donors last year.

It is expected to announce a series of tax hikes in the coming months as part of next year’s budget.

Thursday’s far-reaching protests prompted calls by senior officials for the government to resign, with influential Druze politician Walid Jumblatt saying he had urged the prime minister to step down.

Interior Minister Raya al-Hassan earlier said that “if this government falls, the government that will come after will not have better options.” – With AFP