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Lebanon Anti-Gov't Protests Gain Steam 10/20 09:38

   BEIRUT (AP) -- Tens of thousands of Lebanese protesters of all ages gathered 
Sunday in major cities and towns nationwide, with each hour bringing hundreds 
more people to the streets for the largest anti-government protests yet in four 
days of demonstrations.

   Protesters danced and sang in the streets, some waving Lebanese flags and 
chanting "the people want to bring down the regime." In the morning, young men 
and women carried blue bags and cleaned the streets of the capital, Beirut, 
picking up trash left behind by the previous night's protests.

   The spontaneous mass demonstrations are Lebanon's largest in five years, 
spreading beyond Beirut. They are building on long-simmering anger at a ruling 
class that has divvied up power among themselves and amassed wealth for decades 
but has done little to fix a crumbling economy and dilapidated infrastructure.

   The unrest erupted after the government proposed new taxes, part of 
stringent austerity measures amid a growing economic crisis. The protests have 
brought people from across the sectarian and religious lines that define the 
country.

   "People cannot take it anymore," said Nader Fares, a protester in central 
Beirut who said he's unemployed. "There are no good schools, no electricity and 
no water."

   Politicians are now racing against time to put forward an economic rescue 
plan that they hope will help calm the public.

   On Saturday night, a Lebanese Christian leader asked his four ministers in 
the Cabinet to resign. Samir Geagea, who heads the right-wing Lebanese Forces 
Party, said he no longer believes the current national unity government headed 
by Prime Minister Saad Hariri can steer the country out of the deepening 
economic crisis.

   In a speech Friday night, Hariri had given his partners in the government a 
72-hour ultimatum to come up with convincing solutions to the economic crisis. 
A day later, Hariri said he was meeting Cabinet ministers to "reach what serves 
the Lebanese."

   On Sunday, Hariri continued his meetings to finish suggestions to revive the 
country's crumbling economy, which has been suffering from high unemployment, 
little growth and one of the highest debts ratios in the world standing at 150% 
of the gross domestic products.

   Many of the protesters have already said they don't trust the current 
government's reforms, and are calling on the 30-member Cabinet to resign and be 
replaced by a smaller one made up of technocrats instead of members of 
political groups.

   "I hope the government will resign and I think we are ready and the whole 
country is ready for something else at last," said real estate agent Fabian 
Ziayde.

   Since Saturday, the protests have been mostly peaceful with many protesters 
bringing their children with them to the gatherings.

   But some demonstrators went on a rampage Friday night, smashing shop windows 
and bank exteriors in Beirut's glitzy downtown. Security forces eventually 
responded by firing tear gas and water cannons. Dozens were arrested.


(KR)

 
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