Lebanese PM escapes angry protesters chanting 'thief'

Lebanese PM escapes angry protesters chanting 'thief'
2 min read
19 March, 2017
Saad Hariri walked away from the scene of the anti-tax protest that drew thousands, surrounded by armed escorts walking at speed.
Protesters tore down barriers and threw objects at Hariri's vehicle [Twitter/Ben James/BBC]
The Lebanese prime minister was forced to abandon his vehicle on Sunday, after large crowds of angry anti-tax protesters blocked his passage, chanting anti-government slogans and insults. 

Demonstrators chanted the word "thief" at Saad Hariri and "the people want to overthrow the regime" in scenes of protest outside the Grand Serail in downtown Beirut.

After Hariri left the scene by foot, escorted by armed guards, riot police fired stun grenades to break up the crowd.

The protest, which remained largely peaceful on Sunday afternoon, has been on-going in Riad al-Solh square since Thursday, with separate demonstrations on Sunday spilling off into nearby streets.

Demonstrators have gathered against a planned sales tax increase which many believe unfairly targets the country's poor and low-income professionals.

Large numbers of riot police and water cannons were deployed outside the Prime Minister's headquarters and outside Parliament.

On Wednesday, lawmakers approved a series of tax bills, including a one percent increase in VAT, which previously stood at 10 percent.

The increase will fund a salary hike offered to public sector workers, including teachers, and new salary packages, the government says.

Former MP Khaled Daher told The New Arab the budget requires finding an extra 1.2 trillion Lebanese pounds ($800 million) to cover the rise across all the public sectors.

Activists believe that this money should be taken from other sources, pointing towards the large amount of waste created by official corruption.

Representatives from the Lebanese Communist Party, one of the event's main organisers, say the government should first tackle corruption to raise income before it lays on more taxes.

"Parliament can easily finance these salaries by stopping the looting, corruption and tax avoidance policies," the Lebanese Communist Party said in a statement.

According to Transparency International, Lebanon is one of the most corrupt countries in the world. The anti-corruption NGO's 2015 report on perceptions of corruption placed Lebanon joint 123rd in the world out of 170 countries listed.

Political party representatives were not allowed to speak at the protest by the organisers.

The New Arab's Beirut correspondent, Abd al-Rahman Orabi, reports this is because many political leaders support the tax-hike plan, despite also running profitable Lebanese banks that were spared from tax increases.

Video credit: Samir Chalhoub // Noursat