Lebanese trade unions call off protests

The two day sit-in, supported by opposition parties, failed to muster a huge turnout.

lebanon protests 298.88 (photo credit: AP)
lebanon protests 298.88
(photo credit: AP)
The Lebanese union federation called off a sit-in on Thursday, a day after it threatened to escalate its protests against government plans to raise taxes. Ghassan Ghosn, president of the largest Lebanese union confederation, said the group will hold a meeting later Thursday to decide its next move. He didn't give details, but pro-government factions have accused the labor unions of serving the interests of the opposition, led by Hizbullah. On Wednesday, nearly 1,000 unionists gathered outside the Energy Ministry building in central Beirut, the second day of demonstrations against the proposed tax increases by Prime Minister Fuad Saniora's government. The protests on Tuesday were held outside the Finance Ministry. The two day sit-in, supported by opposition parties, failed to muster a huge turnout. Despite calling off Thursday's protest, Ghosn said in a television interview on Thursday that the unions were committed to sit-ins and may go on strike if the government does not meet their demands. Newspapers said the unions would resume sit-ins on Saturday in front of Justice Ministry. The Shiite Muslim Hizbullah group also has criticized Saniora's economic reform plan. While welcoming any monetary or technical assistance from international donors, the group warned the government against making "political commitments" to foreign countries in return for financial aid it might get at an international donors' conference in Paris scheduled for Jan. 25. It said the plan needed to be thoroughly discussed by economic and business organizations and labor unions before being presented to the Paris conference. It also stressed the need for "political consensus" among rival factions on any economic reform. Thousands of anti-government protesters have camped out in central Beirut since Dec. 1 - just steps from the government building - demanding its resignation. The labor protest began after Saniora proposed increasing taxes as part of an economic reform plan ahead of the Paris conference. The sweeping plan aims to attract foreign financial assistance, much needed after the devastating 34-day Hizbullah-Israel war in the summer. It includes programs for privatization, debt reduction and unpopular measures such as fuel price hikes and an increase in the value-added tax from 10 percent to 12 percent.