Lebanese father who set himself on fire over unpaid school fees dies

Zureik’s death sparked angry responses on social media with many comments critical of high school fees and Lebanon’s worsening economic situation. (Screenshot: Social Media)
Updated 09 February 2019
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Lebanese father who set himself on fire over unpaid school fees dies

  • Zureik is believed to have asked the school for documents to transfer his daughter to a semi-free public institution, but was refused because of outstanding tuition fees
  • Zreik reportedly took the desperate step after the school refused to give him a certificate attesting that his daughter was a student

BEIRUT: A Lebanese man died from severe burns Friday after setting himself on fire at his daughter's school over a fee dispute with the management, it was announced on Saturday.

George Zreik doused himself with petrol and set it ablaze Thursday at Our Lady of Kaftoun secondary school in the Koura district of north Lebanon, the doctor who treated him told AFP.

Gabriel al-Sabaa, head of the surgery department at the al-Salam hospital in Tripoli, said that "burns covered 90 percent of his body".

Zreik reportedly took the desperate step after the school refused to give him a certificate attesting that his daughter was a student, the state-run National News Agency said.

He needed the certificate to transfer her to another institution.

The school withheld the document because Zreik had failed to pay fees he owed the management, the report said.

The school said in a statement that it had granted Zreik's two children free tuition since they enrolled in 2014.

But the father still had to pay for the bus service, stationery and extracurricular activities, it said.

The school said it had sent four written notices since the start of the school year asking him to settle outstanding payments.

Zreik’s death sparked angry responses on social media, some siding with Zreik and others criticizing him, with many comments critical of high school fees and Lebanon’s worsening economic situation.

MPs from North Lebanon joined the online protests, describing Zureik as “a martyr of taxes and the high cost of living.”

MP Sami Gemayel said Zureik was “a martyr to irresponsibility and lack of accountability,” while MP Michel Moawad said: “His suicide is an unprecedented Lebanese tragedy that reflects the worsening economic and social conditions in the country.” 

Activist Farouq Yacoub wrote in an online post: "We need to take to the streets and torch the country the way George Zreik torched himself." 

The school administration denied responsibility for the incident and said in a statement that “due to the deceased father’s economic situation, the school had shown sympathy since his two children enrolled in 2014/2015 and exempted him from paying fees except for transportation, stationary and extracurricular activities.”

However, Lebanon’s Ministry of Education has announced an investigation into the circumstances of the incident. 

Education Minister Akram Shahib said that public schools in the country this year have accepted thousands of students who were transferred from private schools because of the tough economic conditions.
 
The minister said he will ensure Zureik’s children continue their education and will provide them with the necessary scholarships.
 
“I hope that this painful incident will be an incentive for the government to make improving the difficult economic and living conditions a priority,” he said. 

Economist Louis Hobeika described the incident as “a sad situation.”

“The Ministry of Labor has estimated the unemployment rate in Lebanon at 25 percent — and it might be higher,” he said.

“We have noticed a fall in the number of parents who can pay university tuition fees, prompting students to work at restaurants and other places. But the problem with schools is that parents are the only ones who can pay for their children’s tuition.”


Sudan government arrests opposition leaders ahead of protest

Updated 17 min 58 sec ago
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Sudan government arrests opposition leaders ahead of protest

  • The Sudanese Congress Party says government arrested leaders of Umma and Communist parties, among others
  • The demonstrators want the President Al-Bashir to resign

CAIRO: A Sudanese opposition party says more than 10 opposition leaders have been arrested ahead of the latest day of protests urging President Omar al-Bashir to resign.
In a statement, the Sudanese Congress Party says security forces "pre-empted" demonstrations by arresting the deputy head of the Umma Party, Mariam Sadiq al-Mahdi; the party's Secretary-General Sara Naqdallah; Communist Party leader Mokhtar al-Khatib, and others.
Later, police fired tear gas to disperse hundreds who had gathered to march, near the Arab Market area in Khartoum.
Sudan has been rocked by a wave of protests since December calling on al-Bashir, who seized power in a 1989 military coup, to step down. Activists say at least 57 people have been killed, but the government tally stands at 30.