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French Version

Transport strike stalls in most parts of Lebanon

Army disperses protesters blocking roads, but most taxi drivers remain on the job

Taxi drivers and farmers carried out a one-day strike on Thursday to press their demands that the government increase wages and improve social and medical benefits, but the response was not overwhelming as many taxi drivers and public transport workers continued to pick up passengers in several parts of the country.

The one-day action was marred by a few security incidents, although most of them were not serious. Apart from the South, the southern suburbs of Beirut (Dahiyeh), and parts of the North and the Bekaa Valley, many residents noticed nothing unusual in their areas.

Organizers of the strike said 90 percent of the country's taxi drivers participated.

However, TV stations and news media reported that most taxi drivers in Mount Lebanon, Beirut, Tripoli and Sidon refused to comply with the strike.

Meanwhile, Lebanese security forces continued to maintain a high level of alert "until further notice" after a day of sporadic street protests that saw roads blocked briefly by cars and burning tires in the Bekaa, the South and the southern suburbs of the capital.

Armored personnel carriers and police in riot gear stationed at major entry points to the capital stood ready to undo any attempt at blocking roads.

"The army did not fire a single shot Thursday. The army is entrusted with maintaining security in the country and thwart all attempts to create strife," a security source told The Daily Star, adding that a 12-year-old boy was wounded in the shoulder after a member of the General Security discharged his pistol in Nabi Othman in the northern Bekaa.

The General Security employee, identified as Haidar Mustafa, was going to work when he was stopped by a group of protesters blocking the road.

"When he confronted them and demanded to be let through, a group of them converged on him and began to beat him up. He pulled out his gun and fired three shots," the source said. Mustafa turned himself in to the general prosecutor in the Bekaa and is being held in custody pending an investigation.

Security reports indicated that groups of between 15 and 150 men attempted to cut roads in the capital's southern suburbs, the South and the North of the country. The Internal Security Forces received 33 reports from Baalbek and Hermel of different groups ranging in size from 20 to 300 cutting roads and highways with burning tires. Most roads were reopened by midday.

In Dahiyeh, groups of protesters blocked the old airport road at the Rasoul Azam Mosque with burning tires.

A convoy of Lebanese Army armored vehicles was pelted with stones by around 40 protesters while driving along the road between Mar Mikhail in Shiyah and St. Therese in Hadath. The protesters were dispersed by soldiers. No arrests were made in the incident.

Abdul Amir Najdeh, the head of the Taxi Drivers Syndicate, toured Dora, Achrafieh and other parts of Beirut to see if taxi drivers were complying with the strike.

Najdeh said the strike was peaceful, adding that taxi drivers did not want a showdown with the security forces and the army.

He called off the strike in the afternoon, claiming that it has fulfilled its objectives.

Correspondents said that nearly all shops, banks, companies, schools and pharmacies remained open on Thursday in all parts of the country.

They added that some angry taxi drivers near the airport road tried to prevent some of their colleagues from taking passengers to Rafik Hariri International Airport. But the army intervened and dispersed the striking drivers.

The strike organizers threatened more actions in the future if the demand were not met.

Ghassan Ghosn, the president of the General Labor Confederation, said that his union did not take part in the strike although it supported the demand of the drivers and farmers.

"This time we voiced our support ... But next time we will take to the streets if the government remains indifferent to the demand of the labor class and farmers," he said.

The ruling March 14 Forces said in a statement Thursday that the strike was a total failure because most drivers and farmers continued to work. It added that all unrest took place in areas controlled by "forces affiliated with Syria and Iran."

March 14 hailed the security forces and army which they said dealt with the strikes very wisely and without resorting to force. - With agencies, additional reporting by Hani M. Bathish

Labor group submits cost of living report

BEIRUT: The General Labor Confederation (GLC) submitted a high cost of living report to the index committee - a government panel set up to monitor prices - Thursday.

According to the GLC, the poor economic conditions which plagued Lebanon for the past 10 years were caused by the policies of successive governments.

It claimed that the livelihood of the Lebanese deteriorated since 1996 as their purchasing power fell by more than 80 percent.

The GLC also argued that the consumer price indexConsumer-Price-Index Oct-07 from 2006 to 2007 showed that the cost living rose by 15 percent.

The government attributes the rise in the prices of commodities to the increase in the prices of oil, wheat and the depreciation of the dollar.

The GLC said the LL300,000 minimum wage is no longer acceptable, demanding that it be raised to LL960,000 a month.

It added that the value added tax introduced in 2001 has caused inflation to reach 2.3 percent in 2001, 4.8 percent in 2002 and 3.2 percent in 2003.

Kamal Hamdan, an economist, has said that more than 40 percent of the population is struggling to make ends meet because their income did not change since 1996 while the prices of many commodities have more than tripled.

Beirut 25-01-2008
The Daily Star

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