24 January 2008

Army on high alert but strike was relatively peaceful

Beirut - Lebanese army and security forces were deployed throughout the country since early morning and put on high alert in order to face possible fresh riots as the farmers and transport unions observed a one day strike to protest against the worsening living conditions.

Checkpoints were set up throughout the country and troops were constantly patrolling the streets to prevent trouble.

Up until 9: 40 AM the strike was going smoothly with no reports that protesters blocked any roads
At 9: 40 protesters in Baalbeck , Hezbollah stronghold blocked some roads and burned rubber tires, but the Civil Defense volunteers were able to put out the fire and Lebanese troops reopened the roads.

Around 10:00 AM A nine-year-old protestor was wounded by gunfire from Haidar Mustafa a member of the Security forces who fired his pistol at demonstrators blocking the road to Nabi Osman in Baalbek. Mustafa, turned himself in to security authorities later on in the morning

In Musharafiyeh , a southern suburb of Beirut , protesters burned tires and tried to block the roads but were later dispersed by the security forces with the help of Hezbollah security

There were other minor incidents but overall nothing major was reported

At about 3: PM Drivers Union leader Abdel Amir Najdeh declared the end of the strike and called upon all drivers and citizens to go to their homes.

The Union did promise that the strike will be peaceful and no demonstrations or road closures will take place during the one-day strike.

The trade unions are divided along political lines and cannot therefore agree on the issues and actions required to resolve them and for this reason not all the taxi drivers will join the strike

Trade unions that are closely associated with the ruling majority rejected the call for the strike and called instead for use of dialogue to resolve the issues

School buses are participating in the strike

But the universities and schools remain open as usual today according to Mr. Kabbani, Minster of Education

Separately the Catholic schools have also declared that they will be open on Thursday as usual.

Banks and all financial retail outlets are open as usual on Thursday

Pharmacies are also all open

The bakeries union is not participating in the strike and will therefore operate the bakeries as usual and therefore there is no need to rush to buy bread according to the Union of bakery owners.

Last November GLC chief Ghassan Ghosn called on the government to raise the minimum monthly wage from LL300,000 ( $200) to LL950,000 ( $633), due to the high cost of fuel.

"I am not asking the government to subsidize the prices because it will only help the oil cartels in Lebanon. However, the government can alleviate the misery of the citizens by increasing the minimum wage," Ghosn said.

Ghosn headed a labor union delegation today and met with Finance minister Jihad Azour

On Wednesday a delegation from the GLC visited Premier Fouad Siniora at the Grand Serail to discuss their demands.

Ghosn, told reporters that the strike would serve as a warning to the government and threatened to take similar steps in the future in the event the government fails to respond to the union demands

According to Ghosn a Committee comprised of government and private sector representatives plans to recommend an increase in the minimum wage from LL300, 000 ($ 200) to LL450,000 ( $300) , but Ghosn wants more and in addition wants all wages ( not the minimum only) to be increased across the board

The government officials could not confirm or deny the raising of the minimum wage . Azour did confirm they planned to meet the union representatives on Thursday to take up this matter , but cautioned that this will not be a government decision only since the private sector is affected and should therefore be consulted.

Whatever the government and unions agree to , any increases in wages will have to wait to take effect after the parliament ratifies the agreement according to legal experts . Speaker Nabih Berri has not convened the parliament for over 15 months.

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Lebanon Time-Line

Introducing Lebanon

Coolly combining the ancient with the ultramodern, Lebanon is one of the most captivating countries in the Middle East. From the Phoenician findings of Tyre (Sour) and Roman Baalbek's tremendous temple to Beirut's BO18 and Bernard Khoury's modern movement, the span of Lebanon's history leaves many visitors spinning. Tripoli (Trablous) is considered to have the best souk in the country and is famous for its Mamluk architecture. It's well equipped with a taste of modernity as well; Jounieh, formerly a sleepy fishing village, is a town alive with nightclubs and glitz on summer weekends.

With all of the Middle East's best bits - warm and welcoming people, mind-blowing history and considerable culture, Lebanon is also the antithesis of many people's imaginings of the Middle East: mostly mountainous with skiing to boot, it's also laid-back, liberal and fun. While Beirut is fast becoming the region's party place, Lebanon is working hard to recapture its crown as the 'Paris of the Orient'.

The rejuvenation of the Beirut Central District is one of the largest, most ambitious urban redevelopment projects ever undertaken. Travellers will find the excitement surrounding this and other developments and designs palpable - and very infectious.

Finally, Lebanon's cuisine is considered the richest of the region. From hummus to hommard (lobster), you'll dine like a king. With legendary sights, hospitality, food and nightlife, what more could a traveller want?

Introducing Beirut

What Beirut is depends entirely on where you are. If you’re gazing at the beautifully reconstructed colonial relics and mosques of central Beirut’s Downtown, the city is a triumph of rejuvenation over disaster.

If you’re in the young, vibrant neighbourhoods of Gemmayzeh or Achrafiye, Beirut is about living for the moment: partying, eating and drinking as if there’s no tomorrow. If you’re standing in the shadow of buildings still peppered with bullet holes, or walking the Green Line with an elderly resident, it’s a city of bitter memories and a dark past. If you’re with Beirut’s Armenians, Beirut is about salvation; if you’re with its handful of Jews, it’s about hiding your true identity. Here you’ll find the freest gay scene in the Arab Middle East, yet homosexuality is still illegal. If you’re in one of Beirut’s southern refugee camps, Beirut is about sorrow and displacement; other southern districts are considered a base for paramilitary operations and south Beirut is home to infamous Hezbollah secretary general, Hassan Nasrallah. For some, it’s a city of fear; for others, freedom.

Throw in maniacal drivers, air pollution from old, smoking Mercedes taxis, world-class universities, bars to rival Soho and coffee thicker than mud, political demonstrations, and swimming pools awash with more silicone than Miami. Add people so friendly you’ll swear it can’t be true, a political situation existing on a knife-edge, internationally renowned museums and gallery openings that continue in the face of explosions, assassinations and power cuts, and you’ll find that you’ve never experienced a capital city quite so alive and kicking – despite its frequent volatility.