Parts of Lebanon's public and private sectors have gone on strike called for by the country's labor unions to protest worsening economic conditions and months of delay in the formation of a new government. Friday's strike was called for this week by the General Confederation of Lebanese Workers, with the backing of the new cross-sectarian Sabaa Party. The union's head, Beshara Asmar, called for a peaceful general strike and cautioned against holding street protests for fear of violence.
Many institutions across the country have not heeded the call for the strike, while some others only observed a one-hour stoppage, the witnesses added. State agencies have warned their employees against participating in the strike, according to media reports.
Beirut's port was closed, as were several other state institutions, such as the National Social Security Fund and the electricity company, which had the gates to its compound blocked with chains. Flights stopped for an hour in the morning at Beirut's Rafik Hariri International Airport. However, Mohamad Shukeir, head of the chambers of commerce, industry and agriculture that represent the private sector, said that Friday is a normal work day. Last week, Lebanon witnessed several street demonstrations aimed at pressuring the country's rival political groups to form a government and tackle the country's worsening economic problems.
Lebanon has suffered spasms of political crisis and violence since the 1975-90 civil war. Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri leads a caretaker government but has been unable to form a cabinet since the May parliamentary election, with factions at odds over the division of posts. Hariri's Future Movement lost around a third of its seats on May 6, when Lebanon held its first legislative election in nine years and voters reinforced the weight of the Shiite group Hezbollah and its allies. Last November, Hariri blamed the Iranian-backed Shiite Hezbollah group for delaying the creation of the government. The accusation came after Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah insisted that several Sunni lawmakers loyal to the Shiite movement be added to the cabinet, thus boosting Hezbollah's influence in the group. Under the Lebanese constitution, the president should be a Christian, the premier a Sunni Muslim, and the house speaker a Shiite Muslim.