Lebanese workers strike over political stalemate

National union called for protest over lack of a government to deal with economic crisis

Airport trollies lined in the almost empty arrival hall of the Rafik Hariri International Airport during a strike in Beirut, Lebanon, Friday, Jan. 4, 2019. Parts of Lebanon's public and private sectors have gone into a strike called for by the country's labor unions to protest worsening economic conditions and months of delays in the formation of a new government. (AP Photo/Bilal Hussein)
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Flights at Beirut's international airport were disrupted and the city's port was closed on Friday as workers staged a nationwide strike to protest against the state of the economy and politicians' failure to form a government eight months after elections.

The one-day strike was called by the General Confederation of Lebanese Workers, with the backing of the new cross-sectarian Sabaa Party.

"The strike is directed toward politicians who failed to produce a cabinet," said Bechara Asmar, head of the workers confederation. "Is demanding that a government solve the problems a shame?"

Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri has not been able to form a new government since parliamentary elections last May because of bickering among rival groups in Lebanon's sectarian political system. Meanwhile, national debt of $84 billion (Dh308bn), or 155 per cent of the gross domestic product, and unemployment believed to be around 36 per cent are compounding concerns that the country will implode.

"The country is heading toward collapse ... this is what all the politicians are saying," said Victoria El Khoury Zwein, a co-founder of Sabaa. "What we are saying is that the country is in crisis and therefore we need a government that should be running affairs during this crisis and come up with a quick rescue plan."

Flights at Beirut's Rafik Hariri International Airport were stopped for only an hour in the morning, but the capital's port remained closed and so did several other state institutions such as the National Social Security Fund and the electricity company.

However, Mohamad Shukeir, head of the chambers of commerce, industry and agriculture that represent the private sector, said Friday was a normal working day.


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