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

18 October 2019 09:12
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Thousands take to the streets in Lebanon in protest against WhatsApp tax

BEIRUT. KAZINFORM: 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, Kazinform has learnt from Arab News. Thousands of 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.

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.

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?»

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.

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