Internet shutdowns hit Lebanon due to cash-strapped strike

BEIRUT (AP) – Internet shutdowns spread across damp Lebanon on Tuesday after workers at the country’s state-owned telecoms company went on strike demanding higher wages.

It was the latest reflection of one of the world’s worst economic disasters, which has plunged three quarters of Lebanon’s 6 million people into poverty. The Lebanese pound has lost over 90 percent of its value against the US dollar in three years.

The wages of employees at Ogero and other public sector institutions have not been adjusted to reflect the devaluation of the pound and skyrocketing inflation.

“Unfortunately, there is very little to do at my level,” Ogero chairman Imad Kreidieh told The Associated Press. “Ogero does not have the resources to deal with the matter.”

Kreidieh added that the Lebanese parliament and caretaker government must resolve the issue.

Internet shutdowns have affected several cities across the country, including several districts of Beirut, according to Lebanon’s state-run National News Agency.

Acting Telecoms Secretary Johnny Corm didn’t immediately reply to the AP when asked if the government was working to fix the internet shutdowns.

MP Paula Yacoubian told the AP that next week Parliament’s Telecoms Committee will meet on Monday to discuss the issue.

Parliament, meanwhile, has yet to approve a state budget for 2022 as the country scrambles to reform its corrupt and unproductive economy.

Thousands of public sector workers have been on strike for nearly two months, demanding higher wages and transportation allowances.

The Lebanese government approved hikes in internet and phone subscription prices in May, saying the increases are vital to the survival of the country’s struggling telecoms sector, which is struggling to maintain its infrastructure and afford diesel fuel for its generators.

Lebanon’s already fragile infrastructure deteriorated after the massive explosion at the port of Beirut on August 4, 2020 that killed over 200 people, injured thousands and destroyed several neighborhoods in the Lebanese capital.

The economic crisis in Lebanon continues to pulverize public life. The financially strapped country is already struggling with soaring fuel, electricity and food prices, as well as rampant power outages and water shortages. Residents rely almost entirely on expensive private diesel generators, as the country’s debt-ridden and bloated state electric company provides no more than about two hours of electricity per day.

Ogero has had trouble maintaining its infrastructure, providing fuel for its generators, and preventing copper and metal wire theft for the past two years. In January, about 26,000 subscribers in Beirut went offline due to diesel fuel shortages, including the internal security forces’ operating room.

Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, transcribed or redistributed without permission.

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