Protesters remain despite Lebanese PM’s reform package

BEIRUT (AP) – Facing escalating mass protests, the government of Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri approved on Monday a package of economic reforms and a 2020 budget without new taxes, hoping to appease people in the streets.

Protests swelled in the hours after the announcement, however, as many demonstrators scorned the package as “empty promises.”

Hundreds of thousands of people have flooded public squares across the country in the largest protests in over 15 years, unifying an often-divided public in their revolt against status-quo leaders who have ruled for three decades and brought the economy to the brink of disaster.

Sparked by proposed new taxes, the protests have shaken the country and top leaders, who are scrambling to come up with concessions to appease the public.

Following a nearly five-hour Cabinet meeting, Hariri announced a series of economic and financial reforms which he described as a “coup,” saying no government in Lebanon’s history has taken such radical steps before.

“The decisions that we made today might not fulfil your goals, but for certain it achieves what I have been seeking for two years,” Hariri told the protesters. “These decisions are not in exchange for anything. I am not going to ask you to stop protesting and stop expressing your anger. This is a decision that you take,” he added.

Anti-government protesters sleep on the street after spending the night protesting in front of the government palace in Beirut, Lebanon. PHOTO: AP