Hundreds protest against high prices and regressive taxation
Daily Star: By Simona Sikimic
BEIRUT: Around 1,000 people took to the streets of Beirut Sunday to protest against high food and fuel prices and continued economic hardships.
Marching from Cola to Downtown Beirut, the protesters chanted slogans such as “Bread, freedom, dignity and patriotism” but were denied access to their intended destination outside the Grand Serail, which was cordoned off by riot police. Some minor altercations, including a protester trying to remove a barrier, were reported, but the demonstration remained overwhelmingly peaceful.
“We are mobilizing about issues like wages, the high cost of living and the day-to-day concerns of the people,” said Omar Deeb, secretary general of Union of Lebanese Democratic Youth (ULDY), which organized the march. “Politicians only talk about the Special Tribunal for Lebanon and the ‘false witnesses’ but no one is talking about the actually important problems.”
With a nationwide base of young activists, ULDY had expected to attract a larger turn out but their efforts were hampered by bad weather. Further protests are now expected to take place over the coming months.
“While the new government is being formed, we decided to use the streets so that the government is not given an allowance [to not] resume basic responsibilities to assure [decent] living standards and food stability and work against poverty,” UDLY said in a statement.
Concerns including rising prices of basic commodities and high and regressive taxation, which places a heavy burden on the poor, while making allowances for the rich, topped the list of grievances.
“VAT tax which hits all people is 10 percent but this is similar to taxes that banks and big businesses pay,” said Deeb. “Some are even exempt totally and something has to be done about this. Ordinary people have the right to live in dignity. We have to introduce a degree of social responsibility into the system.
“Economic issues have to be placed higher on the agenda,” he added.
Alongside other demands, the group is petitioning authorities to begin subsidizing the price of grain and introduce fuel subsides for the poor.
It also plans to picket the General Labor Union which it blames for not doing enough to preserve the interests of its members and for being too close to the Hezbollah-led March 8 camp.
Mass protests over concerns such as high youth unemployment and food instability, have swept the Arab world in the last month, with manifestations reported in Tunis, Egypt, Algeria, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Yemen.