BEIRUT: Big businesses and banks observed a one-day strike in different parts of Lebanon Wednesday to protest a collapsing economy as the private sector warned of further action if officials fail to form a new government.
“We will adopt escalatory steps in the event a government is not formed,” said Adnan Qassar, head of the Economic Committees, which called for Wednesday’s strike.
His comments came during a news conference following a meeting with President Michel Sleiman.
In Beirut's main Hamra street big stores and banks closed as part of the strike. Only small shops were seen open.
A number of cafe and restaurant owners in the popular area told The Daily Star they would end the strike action at 12 p.m., in line with a decision by the Association of Restaurants calling on members to close down for three hours.
In Tripoli, Lebanon's second-largest city, the picture was similar with many large, privately-owned firms and banks closed. Roughly half of the shops in the downtown markets were closed.
Business protests in the southern city of Sidon were limited to the closure of banks.
The normally busy highways and city streets saw reduced morning traffic.
Oil importers stopped fuel delivery Wednesday as part of the protest but not all gas stations respected the strike.
The Economic Committees, a body representing private sector institutions, called for the strike last week, demanding that political parties agree on forming a Cabinet to support the economy.
The Cabinet resigned in March after fallout over attempts to extend the term of a senior security official and increased polarization over the Syrian conflict.
Caretaker Industry Minister Vrej Sabonjian said Wednesday the strike would not hasten a Cabinet formation.
“The shutdown of institutions will not lead to a government formation,” Sabonjian told the Voice of Lebanon radio station.
He held the private sector responsible for the closures, which he said could “destroy” the confidence of foreign depositors and lead to deposit withdrawals.
The Economic Committees head said the protests came after a series of actions and appeals had failed.
“In light of the serious economic collapse we had to move and say ‘No,’” Qassar said.
He blamed politicians for the political deadlock that has fanned tensions and blocked a new Cabinet lineup.
Since his appointment in April, Prime Minister-designate Tammam Salam has been struggling to form a new government in the face of conditions and counter-conditions by rival Lebanese camps.
Qassar urged politicians to “return to their consciences, abandon their interests, and head to dialogue” in order to ensure stability, particularly following the recent bombings that hit Tripoli, in north Lebanon, and Beirut’s southern suburbs.
The private sector strike coincided with sit-ins by the Union Coordination Committee that represents public employees.
UCC head Hanna Gharib urged political leaders to find solutions to the suffering of the Lebanese.
“We want a government to protect civil peace and ensure the livelihood of citizens that are part of the civil peace,” Gharib told a rally outside the Education Ministry Wednesday.