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Thousands of protesters march against government in Lebanon

BEIRUT, Lebanon: Tens of thousands of protesters marched against the political elite on Friday, accusing them of corruption that has led to the demise of the economy.

Riot police fired rubber bullets and tear gas to disperse protesters, wounding them, in Beirut’s commercial district.

Dozens of demonstrators were also detailed by the police as they rounded them up on foot and in vehicles.

Prime Minister Saad Hariri accused his coalition partners of inhibiting reforms that could cordon off the economic crisis giving them a 72-hour deadline while warning them of a possible resignation from him.

“I understand people’s anger and know that we are running out of time,” he said in an address to the nation as thousands of protesters gathered across Riad al Solh and Martyr’s Square.

We need “clear, decisive and final” decisions regarding proposed structural reforms to fix the ailing economy, he said.

“Theoretically, all parties were in favour of implementing reforms but when it came to execution, it was a different matter,” Hariri said while blaming his opponents for the economic crisis.

Hariri’s government allies, Progressive Socialist Party leader Walid Jumblatt and Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea, had already called on him to resign hours before the televised address.

Lebanese government is struggling to implement several austerity measures to contain growing debt which has reached nearly 150% of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

People have been slapped with increased income taxes, corporate taxes, value-added taxes, and taxes on income earned from bank deposits to support the ailing economy.

Unprecedented “WhatsApp” tax had triggered mass protests all over the country as the cabinet moved to implement duty on online media calls.

“Everyone is tired of this, the situation is horrible, people have no money, the people are falling apart, and all they give us is taxes, taxes, taxes,” said Samir Shmaysri, 39-year-old demonstrator from Beirut.

Another marcher exclaimed, “We’ve tried being peaceful, it hasn’t worked.”

Protesters are calling it “the WhatsApp revolution”, which has shaken up Prime Minister Hariri’s coalition government.