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Lebanese banks, schools shut as protesters push on

Unprecedented protests erupted across Lebanon on 17 October, demanding the ouster of a generation of politicians seen by demonstrators as inefficient and corrupt.

Lebanese protesters gather next to burning tyres to block the southern entrance of the capital of north Lebanon Tripoli, as anti-government demonstrations continued on 12 November 2019 across the country. Picture: AFP

BEIRUT - Banks and schools were closed in Lebanon on Tuesday as protesters tried to prevent employees from clocking in at state institutions nearly one month into an anti-graft street movement.

Unprecedented protests erupted across Lebanon on 17 October, demanding the ouster of a generation of politicians seen by demonstrators as inefficient and corrupt.

The government stepped down on 29 October but it remains in a caretaker capacity as no overt efforts have been made to form a new one.

Dozens of protesters gathered near the Palace of Justice in central Beirut on Tuesday morning, demanding an independent judiciary as they tried to prevent judges and lawyers from going to work, an AFP correspondent said.

In the town of Aley east of Beirut, in the southern city of Tyre, and the eastern town of Baalbek, demonstrators held sit-ins outside or inside the offices of the state telecommunications provider, local media reported.

Many schools and universities were closed, as were banks after their employees called for a general strike over alleged mistreatment by customers last week.

Banks have restricted access to dollars since the start of the protests, sparking fears of the devaluation of the local currency and discontent among account holders.

The central bank on Monday, however, insisted the Lebanese pound would remain pegged to the dollar and said it had asked banks to lift restrictions on withdrawals.

Students, who have emerged as key players in the uprising, were expected to hold further demonstrations later in the day ahead of a presidential address in the evening.

The leaderless protest movement first erupted after a proposed tax on calls via free phone applications, but it has since morphed into an unprecedented cross-sectarian outcry against everything from perceived state corruption to rampant electricity cuts.

People in the street say they are fed up with the same political families dominating government institutions since the end of the 1975-1990 civil war.

Protesters are demanding a fresh cabinet include independent experts not affiliated to traditional political parties, but no date has yet been set for required parliamentary consultations.

Government formation typically takes months in Lebanon, with protracted debate on how to best maintain a fragile balance between religious communities.

The World Bank says around a third of Lebanese live in poverty, and has warned the country's struggling economy could further deteriorate if a new cabinet is not formed rapidly.

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