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Lebanese PM gives government 3 days to back reforms

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Beirut (AFP)

Lebanon's premier Saad Hariri on Friday gave his government three days to back key reforms, as protests against the political elite and austerity measures rocked the country for a second day.

"I'm setting a very short deadline" of 72 hours, Hariri said in a televised address, as thousands filled the streets of central Beirut.

"Either our partners in the coalition government give a clear, decisive and final response to convince me, the Lebanese people and the international community... that everyone has decided on reforms, stopping waste and corruption, or I will have something else to say," he added.

Lebanon, which has one of the world's highest debt to gross domestic product ratios, passed an austerity budget in July.

Tempers boiled over Thursday over plans to introduce a $0.20 tax on calls on messaging applications such as WhatsApp, though it was then scrapped in response to the protests.

"The anger is certainly caused by living conditions, but it also stems from political behaviour," Hariri said.

Hariri said he had spent years trying to find "real solutions" to problems ailing the country before the protests erupted.

"For months we have been waiting for our partners in the country and the government to go forward with the solution that we decided on... but there is no procrastination they haven't tried," he said.

Growth in Lebanon has plummeted in the face of repeated political deadlock in recent years, compounded by the impact of eight years of war in neighbouring Syria.

Last year, Hariri struggled for more than eight months to form a cabinet.

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