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Lebanese Rise Up Against WhatsApp Tax

On Thursday, Beirut and several major cities saw mass demonstrations, which turned into riots and clashes with security forces. Lebanese police used tear gas to disperse activists in the city centre. According to local media, dozens of people were injured, including police officers. On Friday morning, groups of activists took to the streets again, blocking the southern and northern roads leading to Beirut, as well as the main highway linking the Lebanese capital with Damascus.

Information Minister Jamal al-Jarrah said on Thursday that the cabinet had agreed to a charge of 20 cents a day for calls via the so-called voice-over-internet protocol (VoIP), used by applications including FaceTime, Facebook CallApp and WhatsApp.

The fee could potentially bring in up to $250m in annual revenues from the country’s estimated 3.5 million VoIP users, but triggered sporadic protests across Beirut as people rallied against the government’s handling of an economic crisis.

The country has only two mobile phone service providers, both state-owned, with some of the priciest mobile rates in the region.

In one of the biggest protests the country has seen in years, demonstrators blocked roads across Lebanon with burning tyres. Security forces fired tear gas at demonstrators in central Beirut early on Friday, Lebanese media said.

Earlier, Lebanese Communications Minister Mohammad Choucair announced the abolition of the tax on WhatsApp and similar messaging apps.

In banks, the issuance of dollars is limited and the percentage of the commission for issuing foreign currency in cash has increased, which has resulted in problems both among entrepreneurs who make payments in dollars and among ordinary residents.