World Bank official urges Beirut to form a new cabinet within a week to prevent further loss of confidence in its economy as thousands of high school and university students skip classes in widening anti-graft protests.

Lebanese demonstrators gather outside a branch of the Central bank during ongoing anti-government demonstrations in Lebanon's southern city of Sidon (Saida) on November 8, 2019.
Lebanese demonstrators gather outside a branch of the Central bank during ongoing anti-government demonstrations in Lebanon's southern city of Sidon (Saida) on November 8, 2019. (AFP)

The World Bank's regional director on Friday urged Lebanon to form a new cabinet "within a week" to prevent further degradation and loss of confidence in its economy.

Saroj Kumar Jha told The Associated Press that the World Bank observed in recent weeks increasing risks to Lebanon's economic and financial stability.

"We are very concerned that this will impact the Lebanese poor people, middle class" and businesses, he said.

"It is extremely important that there is a political solution to the ongoing crisis and [that] we have a credible government in the office, which can launch ambitious bold reforms for economic stability, for more growth in the economy, for more jobs to be created and to restore confidence," Jha added.

Since banks in Lebanon opened again last Friday for the first time in two weeks, people have been rushing to banking institutions to withdraw money fearing that the country's crisis would further deepen amid shortage in liquidity.

The banks subsequently have been imposing irregular capital controls to protect deposits and prevent a run on the banks.

Protests continue

Also on Friday, Lebanese school and university students continued their third day of protests calling for a change of the country's ruling system.

They protested in front of the ministry of education and other public institutions holding Lebanese flags and chanting revolutionary songs.

Lebanon has since October 17 been gripped by massive cross-sectarian protests demanding a complete revamping of a political system they say is corrupt and inept.

Protesters called on toppling the current regime and holding Lebanese officials accountable for mismanagement and corruption.

In Beirut, a teenage student who gave her name as Qamar was among thousands of pupils chanting slogans outside the ministry of education on Friday.

"So what if we lose a school year compared to our entire future?" she said. "I don't want to study in Lebanon and then have to travel abroad" to find a job.

Around her, students waved Lebanese flags, as others set off yellow, green, blue and purple flares into the sky.

"We missed classes to kick your asses," read one poster in English.

Another poster in rhyming Arabic said, "No studying or teaching until the president falls."

Micha Balouneh, a university student said,  "We are staying here so we will be able to get back our rights, to stop those who are stealing from us and to achieve our dreams, which have vanished."

Leaderless and youth-led protests

Outside the state-run electricity company, protesters gathered to prevent the employees and customers from entering the company's building.

As it enters its fourth week, the leaderless and youth-led protests have shifted from squares and roadblocks to targeting specific public institutions.

Protesters are calling for the formation of a technocrat government that would get to work immediately on addressing Lebanon's economic crisis.

Lebanon, one of the most heavily indebted countries in the world, was already dealing with a severe fiscal and economic crisis before the protests began, rooted in years of heavy borrowing and expensive patronage networks run by entrenched political parties.


Early Friday, dozens of activists and retired army officers for the first time briefly closed down the entrance to Beirut's port.

Among them, music producer Zeid Hamdan, 43, had come to denounce what he viewed as a customs collection system riddled with corruption.

"As a musician, whenever I bring an instrument into the country, I pay 40 percent of it to customs," he said, sporting a light beard and wearing sunglasses.

"It stays stuck in the port for weeks. You need connections, to bribe everybody to get it out," he said.

Economic downturn

Lebanon's cabinet stepped down last week but no official consultations have started on forming a new government.

Outgoing premier Saad Hariri remains in a caretaker capacity.

The World Bank has urged Lebanon to form a new government quickly, warning of the threat of a further economic downturn in a country where almost a third of the population lives in poverty.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies