Thousands take to the streets in Lebanon in protest against WhatsApp tax

Thousands take to the streets in Lebanon in protest against WhatsApp tax
1 / 5
A Lebanese demonstrator walks past burning tires during a protest against recent tax calls on October 17, 2019 in the southern suburb of Beirut. (AFP)
Thousands take to the streets in Lebanon in protest against WhatsApp tax
2 / 5
Lebanese demonstrators chant slogans during a protest against recent tax calls on October 17, 2019 in the southern suburbs of Beirut. (AFP)
Thousands take to the streets in Lebanon in protest against WhatsApp tax
3 / 5
Lebanese demonstrators burn tires during a protest against recent tax calls on October 17, 2019 in the southern suburbs of Beirut. (AFP)
Thousands take to the streets in Lebanon in protest against WhatsApp tax
4 / 5
Lebanese demonstrators burn wood and debris during a protest against recent tax calls on October 17, 2019. (AFP)
Thousands take to the streets in Lebanon in protest against WhatsApp tax
5 / 5
Demonstrators clash with police during a protest against a government decision to tax calls made on messaging applications on October 17, 2019. (AFP)
Updated 18 October 2019

Thousands take to the streets in Lebanon in protest against WhatsApp tax

Thousands take to the streets in Lebanon in protest against WhatsApp tax
  • Demonstrations erupted in the capital Beirut, Sidon, Tripoli and in the Bekaa Valley
  • Demonstrators chanted the popular refrain of the 2011 Arab Spring protests: “The people demand the fall of the regime.”

BEIRUT: Demonstrations erupted last night in Lebanon over plans for the introduction of a tax on telephone calls made over the internet using the WhatsApp messenger. Thousands of people continued to protest past midnight, even after an announcement by Telecommunications Minister Mohammad Choucair that the plan had been abandoned at the request of Prime Minister Saad Hariri.

Some of the demonstrators said that ditching the WhatsApp tax plan was not enough because there are many other tax burdens imposed on people in the economically paralyzed country.

“This government must resign because no one in it wants to take responsibility for our circumstances,” a protester said. “We are dying every day but they are indifferent. No jobs, no social security and no health guarantees. We are from all sects protesting in the streets. They want us to pay but they do not provide us with anything in return.”

Protests began in a number of places after civil activists with no obvious partisan political affiliations issued a call for action on social-media sites. By 8 p.m. a few dozen people were on the streets in Beirut. As they moved around, they were were joined by others and the numbers grew to hundreds and then thousands, spreading into the city’s southern suburbs. The main road to the airport was also blocked with burning tires.

Protesters packed roads from Riad Al-Solh Square in central Beirut all the way to Martyrs Square, chanting “Revolution” and “The people want to take down the regime.”




Demonstrators gather during a protest against a government decision to tax calls made on messaging applications on October 17, 2019. (AFP)

One person, the head of a family, said: “We are poor people. Why are they preying upon us? We had free WhatsApp calls — why do they want us to pay the internet bill twice?”

Protesters also gathered in Tripoli, where posters of Hariri were torn down in city is normally loyal to him. The demonstrations spread to the Bekaa region, where roads leading to the Masnaa border crossing with Syria were blocked. In Baalbek-Hermel, most of the roads leading to Hezbollah were blocked. The protesters then moved to the road leading to the south, blocking it as well. Armenian protesters and activists from Christian-majority areas also took to the streets and blocked roads in Zgharta, Akkar and Byblos.

A large number of the demonstrators seemed to be actively protesting for the first time, and there was a mix of men and women, younger and older people. The majority appeared to from the middle and lower classes. In footage recorded by TV news crews, many said that they have had enough of the way they are being treated by the authorities and will not take anymore.

In one of the calls on social media for more people to join the demonstrations, a protester wrote: “Leave your hookahs and join us. What are you waiting for? They are taking every bite from our mouths.”

The anger was sparked by a cabinet meeting on Wednesday to discuss the 2020 budget, during which Choucair raised the possibility of imposing a tax of 20 cents per day on internet calls made using the WhatsApp messenger application.

“The cabinet approved a study of the idea but did not turn it into a decision,” Choucair said. “The implementation requires technical equipment that we do not have. I have said that any step toward imposing this tax must be offset against new offers for users.”

However, the proposal was greeted with anger and outrage, especially among young people and those on low incomes. Many were also concerned that it was not only designed to boost tax revenue, but also a way to monitor communications and restrict freedom of speech and protests.

Many people made sarcastic comments about the issue, which was raised by pro-Hezbollah newspaper Al-Akhbar on Thursday morning. Hezbollah cabinet minister Mahmoud Qamati said that the party’s ministers would not agree to the tax. “We will seek to thwart any decision on the matter,” he added.

However, Choucair pointed out that during the Cabinet meeting no ministers, Hezbollah or otherwise, had opposed the idea. He accused “hidden hands of being behind the anger in the street,” adding: “I do not want to accuse anyone but this is not an innocent matter.”
 


HRW urges Iran to probe deadly shooting on Pakistan border

HRW urges Iran to probe deadly shooting on Pakistan border
Updated 26 February 2021

HRW urges Iran to probe deadly shooting on Pakistan border

HRW urges Iran to probe deadly shooting on Pakistan border
  • Shooting in the border area near the town of Saravan killed at least 10 people and wounded five
BEIRUT: Human Rights Watch called on Iran Friday to investigate a deadly shooting by Revolutionary Guards against smugglers attempting to transport fuel into neighboring Pakistan for excessive use of force.
Monday’s shooting in the border area near the town of Saravan killed at least 10 people and wounded five, HRW said, citing Baluchi activists.
Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps had blocked a road used to transport fuel before apparently opening fire at people attempting to reopen the route, it added.
The action has prompted attacks by angry protesters on government buildings in both Saravan and the Sistan-Baluchistan provincial capital Zahedan.
“The Iranian authorities should urgently conduct a transparent and impartial investigation into the shootings at the Saravan border,” said HRW Iran researcher Tara Sepehri Far.
“The authorities should hold those responsible for wrongdoing to account, appropriately compensate victims and ensure that border guards are taking the utmost precautions to respect the right to life and other human rights.”
Provincial deputy governor Mohammad-Hadi Marashi said Tuesday that the shooting had started from the Pakistani side of the border and one person had been killed and four wounded.
Sistan-Baluchistan province has long been a security headache for the Iranian government.
Its large ethnic Baluch population, which staddles the frontier, has made it a flashpoint for cross-border attacks on government or Shiite targets by separatists and Sunni extremists.
HRW said the lack of employment opportunities in the province had left its ethnic Baluch population few alternatives to black market trading with their fellow Baluchs across the border.
“Similar to the western provinces of Western Azerbaijan and Kurdistan (on the border with Iraq), its lack of economic opportunities has led many residents to engage in unlawful cross-border commerce with Pakistan,” the New York-based watchdog.

Israel vaccinates 50% of its population against COVID-19

Israel vaccinates 50% of its population against COVID-19
Updated 26 February 2021

Israel vaccinates 50% of its population against COVID-19

Israel vaccinates 50% of its population against COVID-19
  • About 35 percent of Israel’s population had received both doses of the Pfizer vaccine

JERUSALEM: Israel has administered at least one COVID-19 vaccine dose to 50 percent of its 9.3 million population, Health Minister Yuli Edelstein said on Friday.
Israel counts East Jerusalem Palestinians, who have been included in the vaccine campaign that began on Dec 19, as part of its population. Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and the Gaza Strip are not part of the Israeli campaign.
Edelstein said 35 percent of Israel’s population had received both doses of the Pfizer vaccine, putting them on course to receive a so-called “Green Pass” with access to leisure sites that the country has been gradually reopening.


Libya’s new PM delays naming Cabinet as deadline looms

Libya’s new PM delays naming Cabinet as deadline looms
Updated 26 February 2021

Libya’s new PM delays naming Cabinet as deadline looms

Libya’s new PM delays naming Cabinet as deadline looms
  • Appointing the Cabinet is part of a UN-backed transitional roadmap
  • Since 2015, Libyan state institutions have been divided between two administrations

CAIRO: Libya’s newly-elected prime minister failed to name members of a much-anticipated Cabinet ahead of an expected deadline Thursday, raising questions over whether his transitional government can unite Libya’s factions.
Prime Minister designate Abdul Hamid Mohammed Dbeibah was set to announce his Cabinet in a news conference from the capital, Tripoli, and send it to Libya’s House of Representatives for approval.
Instead, Dbeibah told reporters he only shared with Libyan lawmakers proposed guidelines for the selection of Cabinet members and an outline of his priorities in the coming period.
Appointing the Cabinet is part of a UN-backed transitional roadmap, which envisages holding general elections in the war-torn North African country by the end of the year.
Since 2015, Libyan state institutions have been divided between two administrations: One in the east and another in the west, each supported by a vast array of militias and foreign governments.
“We are ready to submit the names (of Cabinet ministers) but we should consult among ourselves and examine candidate names meticulously,” Dbeibah told reporters in Tripoli without specifying when he will actually make the submission.
Dbeibah said he envisages a Cabinet of technocrats who would represent Libya’s different geographic areas and social segments.
“These are critical times and we are taking into consideration that the Cabinet must genuinely achieve national unity and seek consensus and reconciliation,” he said.
He added that the country’s sovereign ministerial portfolios should be equally divided between candidates from Libya’s three key geographic areas in the east, the west and the south.
Earlier this month, Dbeibah was elected as prime minister by Libyan delegates at a UN-sponsored conference near Geneva.
The 75-member Libyan Political Dialogue Forum also elected a three-member Presidential Council, which along with Dbeibah should lead the country through general elections on December 24. Mohammad Younes Menfi, a Libyan diplomat from the country’s east, was selected as chairman of the council.


Bahrain introduces fifth vaccine, extends COVID-19 safety measures

Bahrain introduces fifth vaccine, extends COVID-19 safety measures
Updated 26 February 2021

Bahrain introduces fifth vaccine, extends COVID-19 safety measures

Bahrain introduces fifth vaccine, extends COVID-19 safety measures
  • The Janssen Covid-19 Vaccine will be the fifth vaccine authorized in Bahrain in the fight against the spread of COVID-19
  • The announcement comes as the Government Executive Committee extended precautionary measures

DUBAI: Bahrain’s National Health Regulatory Authority (NHRA) has authorized the use of Johnson and Johnson’s vaccine for coronavirus the Bahrain News Agency reported on Friday.

The Janssen Covid-19 Vaccine will be the fifth vaccine authorized in Bahrain in the fight against the spread of COVID-19 and will be given to those most at risk, suchas the elderly, people with chronic diseases and other groups identified by the Health Ministry.

The announcement comes as the Government Executive Committee extended precautionary measures, aimed at slowing the spread of the virus, for an additional three months.

The measures involve the continued enforcement of  social distancing and screening of people at commercial and industrial premises for a further three months.


Oman extends COVID-19 safety measures, closes parks, beaches, leisure areas indefinitely

Oman extends COVID-19 safety measures, closes parks, beaches, leisure areas indefinitely
Updated 26 February 2021

Oman extends COVID-19 safety measures, closes parks, beaches, leisure areas indefinitely

Oman extends COVID-19 safety measures, closes parks, beaches, leisure areas indefinitely
  • Three Omani citizens convicted of violating coronavirus safety protocols

DUBAI: Oman’s Supreme Committee supervising the country’s coronavirus response has extended indefinitely the closure of beaches, public parks and leisure spaces to curb the spread of the highly contagious disease.

It reiterated the ban on indoor gatherings in resthouses, farms and winter camps, state news agency ONA reported, citing the high risk of coronavirus transmission in closed spaces.

In the North A’Sharqiyah governorate, the Supreme Committee has extended the shortened business operating hours with commercial activities required to close from 7 p.m. until 6 a.m..

Petrol stations, health establishments and private pharmacies are exempt from the updated regulation.

The latest regulations were issued as the Sultanate’s coronavirus cases reached 140,588 with 29 new patients hospitalized overnight. The total number of COVID-19 related death cases is at 1,562.

Meanwhile, three Omani citizens have been convicted of violating coronavirus safety protocols and separately fined $2,000 and sentenced to a three-month imprisonment.

“Primary Courts in the governorates of North Al Batinah and Dhofar issued penal verdicts convicting three citizens who breached decisions of the Supreme Committee” particularly non-compliance with the institutional quarantine and for not wearing a mask, ONA said in a separate report.