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Low turnout in Beirut as Lebanese mark 2 years of protests

BEIRUT — Lebanon marks the second anniversary of its defunct protest movement with a low-key demonstration in Beirut today, while many stay away amid grinding economic woes and deadly tensions over a port blast probe.

Dozens are marching under rain clouds towards Martyrs’ Square in central Beirut, an AFP photographer says.

Mass protests bringing together Lebanese from all backgrounds erupted on October 17, 2019, denouncing deteriorating living conditions as well as alleged official graft and mismanagement, after the government announced a plan to tax phone calls made over messaging service WhatsApp.

Cross-sectarian demonstrations swept the country, demanding the overthrow of political barons in power since at least the end of the 1975-1990 civil war.

Two years on, Lebanon is mired in a ballooning financial crisis compounded by the coronavirus pandemic, and battered by a devastating explosion at Beirut’s port on August 4 last year.

Draconian banking restrictions have prevented many Lebanese from accessing their savings, while the local currency has lost more than 90 percent of its value to the dollar on the black market.

Almost 80 percent of the population live in poverty, struggling to put food on the table amid endless price hikes, fuel shortages and power cuts.

Protester Rabih Zein says it isn’t just previous police crackdowns that are keeping demonstrators away.

“If anyone is wondering why there are not many people, it’s because they’ve deprived us of gasoline, electricity and the money we put in banks,” he says.

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