Protests sweep Lebanon for a second day

Fierce protests in Beirut were ignited by a plan to tax WhatsApp as part of economic measures.
Fierce protests in Beirut were ignited by a plan to tax WhatsApp as part of economic measures.

Protesters across Lebanon have blocked roads with burning tyres and marched in Beirut for a second day in demonstrations targeting the government over an economic crisis.

In Lebanon's biggest protest in years, thousands of people gathered outside the government headquarters in central Beirut on Thursday evening, forcing the cabinet to backtrack on plans to raise a new tax on WhatsApp voice calls.

Tear gas was fired as some demonstrators and police clashed in the early hours.

Fires lit in the street in central Beirut were smouldering on Friday morning.

Pavements were scattered with the glass of several smashed shop-fronts and billboards had been torn down.

Protesters blocked roads in the north, the south and the Bekaa Valley, among other areas on Friday, the National News Agency (NNA) reported.

Lebanon's president Michel Aoun called for an emergency cabinet meeting on Friday to discuss the situation.

Shops are closed and schools are shut on the instructions of the government.

In Beirut, several hundred people marched near the government's Serail headquarters chanting "the people want the downfall of the regime".

This was the second wave of nationwide protests in October.

In a country fractured along sectarian lines, the unusually wide geographic reach of these protests has been seen as a sign of deepening anger with politicians who have jointly led Lebanon into crisis.

The government, which includes nearly all Lebanon's main parties, is struggling to implement long-delayed reforms that are seen as more vital than ever to begin resolving the crisis.

The Lebanese newspaper an-Nahar described it as "a tax intifada", or uprising, across Lebanon.

Another daily, al-Akhbar, declared it "the WhatsApp revolution" that had shaken Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri's unity government.

Two foreign workers choked to death from a fire that spread to a building near the protests in Beirut, the NNA said.

Seeking ways to boost revenues, a government minister on Thursday announced plans to raise a new fee of 20 cents a day for calls via voice over internet protocol, used by applications including Facebook-owned WhatsApp.

But as the protests spread, Telecoms Minister Mohamed Choucair phoned into Lebanese broadcasters on Thursday evening to say the proposed levy had been revoked.

Australian Associated Press