Banks, schools, and local businesses were closed across Lebanon on Monday, October 21, as thousands participated in a nationwide general strike. Protesters gathered at Martyrs' Square in Beirut as Prime Minister Saad Hariri made a public announcement regarding the approval of an emergency reform package aimed at alleviating the country's ongoing economic crisis. The package calls for a reduction in the salaries of government officials, a plan to privatize the telecommunications sector, and a proposed overhaul of the electricity sector. Despite the reforms, demonstrators continue to demand the resignation of the government, who they accuse of widespread corruption.
The Association of Banks in Lebanon announced on Monday that all banks across the country will remain closed on Tuesday, October 22. ATM machines have a limited cash supply, according to diplomatic sources.
Heightened security measures and transportation and business disruptions are to be expected in major urban centers over the coming days as protests continue. Similar protests are likely in major urban areas in the coming hours. Clashes between protesters and security forces cannot be ruled out.
On October 16, the government approved tax hikes on tobacco products as part of its 2020 federal budget. Information Minister Jama Jarrah announced a 20 percent daily tax for individuals messaging via the WhatsApp mobile phone messenger application on October 17. However, the announcement sparked spontaneous protests on October 17, forcing the government to revoke the tax proposal. Protests were notably reported in Beirut, Sidon, Tripoli, Jounieh, Jbeil, and the Bekaa Valley. On October 19, members of the Lebanese Forces, a Christian political party, stepped down from government due to the inability of the current coalition government to effectively respond to the demands of protesters. Demonstrators have called for the rest of government to resign. Several hundred protesters and security forces have been injured in the protests.
Individuals in Lebanon, and particularly in Beirut, are advised to monitor developments to the situation, avoid all protests and demonstrations as a precaution, anticipate transportation and business disruptions, and adhere to instructions issued by local authorities.
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