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Lebanese Workers Strike to Protest War, Hardships

November 05, 1987|From Reuters

BEIRUT — Lebanon was virtually shut down today by the first general strike in 35 years, a nationwide walkout against war and runaway inflation that has forced some to sell their kidneys and corneas to survive.

"This is the last chance for the authorities to do something," said Antoine Bishara, head of the 250,000-strong General Labor Federation, which called the stoppage. "If the strike doesn't work, we are a dying nation."

Bishara added: "The strike is to stop the war and end the suffering of the people. The strike will continue for weeks and months if need be until our demands are fulfilled."

Lebanon, bled by 12 years of civil war, is now in the throes of financial collapse. The Lebanese pound has lost 83% of its value against the dollar this year, and the inflation rate is about 350%.

Only bakeries, pharmacies and hospitals were exempted from the strike. Middle East Airlines, Lebanon's national carrier, announced an indefinite suspension of regular flights to and from Beirut airport.

Blame for the crumbling economy has been heaped on President Amin Gemayel's government, which is split along religious and political lines and has been ineffectual in trying to shore up the currency.

Once renowned as the place which had everything, Beirut is now crisscrossed by lines stretching for hundreds of yards for such essentials as bread and gasoline.

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