BEIRUT: A strike by civil servants and school teachers entered its second week Monday, with unions bracing for escalatory steps to see a Cabinet wage hike proposal referred to Parliament.
Riot police were out in force as hundreds of protesters rallied outside Lebanon’s Central Bank on Beirut’s main Hamra thoroughfare.
Initially, police had prevented the protesters from reaching the Central Bank.
The Internal Security Forces also deployed around the nearby ministries of interior, information and tourism, where similar rallies were held.
The protesters were led by Hanna Gharib, the head of the Union Coordination Committee – which represents teachers and public sector workers – and the head the Association of Private School Teachers, Nehme Mahfoud.
While less than a third of private schools in the capital participated in the strike, many in the north, east and south were shut.
Mahfoud told The Daily Star Sunday that teachers would seal off the entrances to private schools starting from 6 a.m. to make sure none of them receive students.
There were reports that protesters only briefly blocked the entrance to four schools north of Beirut – two in Jounieh and two in Jbeil – early Monday.
Mahfoud had urged parents to refrain from sending their children to school, in line with the strike.
Demonstrations were also held outside the government headquarters in Zahle, east Lebanon, as well as Sidon and Tyre in the south of the country amid strict security measures.
Protesters representing public and private school teachers joined civil servants who gathered outside the Sidon branch of the central bank to form a massive sit-in in front of the Sidon Serail.
A similar protest took place in front of the Tyre Serail after protesters marched in the streets of Tyre.
Demonstrators vented their anger and shouted anti-government slogans that reverberated across the Sidon and Tyre Serails.
“We want a pay raise,” cried the crowds. “The strike is not aimed against [government] institutions, but against the government’s starvation policy,” others yelled.
The picture was the same in Tripoli, north Lebanon, where public and private school teachers together with public workers amassed outside the central bank branch, calling on the government to refer the pay scale to Parliament for a swift approval.
Private schools were split Sunday on whether or not to join civil servants in their strike over the Cabinet’s delay in referring a wage hike proposal to Parliament.
Unlike the Association of Private School Teachers, the Association of Private Educational Institutions said over the weekend classes would be held Monday, condemning what it described as Mahfoud’s “language of intimidation.”
Butros Azar, the secretary-general of Catholic Schools – a leading private school group – said over the weekend that educational institutions under his authority would remain open Monday in spite of the actions by the UCC.
Many government services remained crippled Monday as civil servants, who reported for duty, abstained from doing any work.
The open-ended strike, which has paralyzed Lebanon’s public sector institutions and schools, kicked off Tuesday following unsuccessful last-minute attempts by the government to approve a plan to fund wage hikes, estimated to cost at least $1.2 billion.
Mahfoud hailed private school teachers for taking part in the strike Monday.
“You have proved that you are the most concerned about your country,” he told the crowd protesting outside the Central Bank.
Mahfoud said the next step would be to close all the schools that failed to participate in the strike.
“The Association will hold a meeting at 3 p.m. today to decide how to close the schools that did not shut today,” he added. -With additional reporting by Mohammed Zaatari, Rakan Faqih and Antoine Amrieh