Many people are directing their ire at the banks and the government, which they blame for the country’s almost unprecedented economic collapse.
A Shotgun, a Gas Canister, and a Whole Lot of Medical Bills
A man in Lebanon attracted hundreds of sympathetic protestors Thursday when he attempted to forcefully retrieve his own savings from a bank at gunpoint.
Bassam al-Sheikh Hussein, 42, barged into a Beirut bank armed with a shotgun and a gas canister, threatening to set himself ablaze if he was not given $200,000 from his account.
In response to a devastating economic and financial crisis, Lebanon’s banks have imposed severe restrictions on the amount of money depositors are allowed to withdraw.
Hussein came to get the money he considered rightfully his, saying he needed it to pay medical bills for his son and his father, who is reportedly in the hospital.
The bank employees refused to hand over the money and most customers fled the building during the initial panic, leaving at least six people trapped inside after he shut the doors.
Hussein reportedly fired at least two shots, but nobody appeared to have been injured.
Police showed up and began negotiating with Hussein, and he rejected a proposed $5,000, $10,000, and $30,000 in exchange for his surrender.
Meanwhile, crowds of onlookers gathered outside the building, many of whom expressed support for the gunman.
“Down with the rule of the banks!” They chanted. “Give him his money! Give him his money!”
After a roughly six-hour standoff with police, Hussein laid down his weapon and exited the bank in exchange for $35,000 to be delivered to his brother.
One of the Worst Economic Calamities in History
Lebanon has been embroiled in an ever-deepening downward economic spiral since October 2019 that has only been put under increased stress from the coronavirus pandemic.
The United Nations has estimated that nearly 80% of the population lives below the poverty line, and the country’s local currency has lost over 90% of its value.
For Lebanon, which imports many essential goods, monetary depreciation hits especially hard. As a result, the country has seen widespread infrastructure failure, with 20-hour-long power cuts, as well as fuel, food, and water shortages.
Inflation rose to 145% last year, and rising food prices have made it extremely difficult for many poor residents to survive.
Currently, banks only allow depositors to withdraw a maximum of $400 per month.
The World Bank has ranked the crisis, which it called a “deliberate depression,” one of the top ten, possibly top three most severe economic collapses globally since the 1850s.
The situation is “orchestrated by the country’s elite that has long captured the state and lived off its economic rents,” the bank said. “This capture persists despite the severity of the crisis.”
Although some saw hope in the May elections that ushered in new independent candidates, the government is still largely ruled by the same families and parties that fought each other during the country’s civil war ending in 1990.
The government has so far resisted proposed economic and political reforms, leading to popular unrest.
Lebanon’s GDP plummeted from nearly $52 billion in 2019 to a projected $21.8 billion in 2021, marking a 58.1 percent contraction, according to the World Bank. It was the highest contraction in a list of 193 countries.
See what others are saying: (CNN) (Vice) (World Bank)
200 Children Seeking Asylum in the U.K. Are Missing
The missing include at least 13 children under the age of 16.
Children Missing From Hotels
There are 200 asylum-seeking children missing from government care in the United Kingdom according to the parliamentary undersecretary of state at the Home Office.
When children are seeking asylum in the U.K. alone or separated from their parents, the government puts them up in hotel rooms for temporary accommodation. They have done so since 2021 and have temporarily accommodated 4,600 children in that time. However, Simon Murray, the parliamentary undersecretary of state at the Home Office, said that 200 of the children placed in those hotels are missing, including at least 13 who are under the age of 16.
In response to this information, a collection of more than 100 charities sent a letter to the Prime Minister demanding the end of the procedure of placing kids in hotels over safety concerns. The letter says that these children are at risk of trafficking and exploitation by staying in these hotels alone.
Other officials have echoed these concerns, claiming these hotels are targets for organized crime where people use these vulnerable children for labor or trafficking.
Parliament Calls Incident “Horrific”
Murray told the House of Lords on Monday that despite the media reports, his department does not know of any kidnapping cases, though they are investigating. He went on to say there are many reasons why children go missing.
However, lawmakers were not appeased by Murray’s assurances. In a later debate, one member of Parliament called the missing cases “horrific” and another said that it was “putting children at risk.” The children’s commissioner for England also reportedly chimed in asking for, quote “assurances on the steps being taken to safeguard the children.”
Murray went on to say that the use of hotels for asylum-seeking children will hopefully be phased out as soon as possible but did not give a timeline.
The nonprofit Refugee Council called on the government in a tweet to spare no expense in the location of these missing kids.
See what others are saying: (Washington Post) (The Guardian) (The Telegraph)
100,000 U.K. Nurses Launch Biggest Strike in NHS History
Opposition leader Keir Starmer called the strike “a badge of shame on this government.”
The NHS Grinds to a Halt
Some 100,000 members of the Royal College of Nursing (RCN), the United Kingdom’s largest nursing union, launched a historic 12-hour strike Thursday after the government refused to negotiate on higher pay.
The work stoppage, which spans England, Wales, and Northern Ireland, is only the second in the RCN’s 106-year history and the largest the NHS has ever seen. It marks the breaking point for many underpaid nurses and the culmination of a years-long decline in the NHS’s quality of care, put under increasing stress by severe staffing shortages.
Although most NHS staff in England and Wales received a pay rise of around £1,400 this year, worth about 4% on average for nurses, they say it has not kept up with inflation as Britain plunges deeper into a cost-of-living crisis.
When inflation is accounted for, nurses’ pay dropped 1.2% every year from 2010 to 2017, according to the Health Foundation.
Meanwhile, the number of patients waiting for care has reached a record 7.2 million in England, or over one in eight residents, more than double what it was seven years ago.
In July, the cross-party Commons Health and Social Care Select Committee estimated the staffing shortfall could be as high as 50,000 nurses and 12,000 doctors, what one MP called the “greatest workforce crisis in history.”
Many nurses argue that boosting pay will help hospitals recruit more staff.
The RCN demanded a pay raise 5% above the retail rate of inflation, which amounts to a 19% increase, but both Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and the government’s health secretary have claimed that’s not affordable.
During Thursday’s strike, partial staffing continued to remain open for urgent care such as chemotherapy, kidney dialysis, and children’s accident and neonatal units.
Sunak and Starmer Brawl in Parliament
Labor leader Keir Starmer grilled Sunak during Wednesday’s Prime Minister’s Questions (PMQs) on the upcoming strike.
“Tomorrow will be the first-ever nationwide nurse’s strike,” he said. “All the Prime Minister has to do to stop that is to open the door and discuss pay with them. If he did, the whole country would breathe a sigh of relief. Why won’t he?”
“We have consistently spoken to all the unions involved in all the pay disputes that there are,” Sunak replied. “Last year, when everyone else in the public sector had a public sector pay freeze, the nurses received a three-percent pay rise.”
Starmer fired back: “Nurses going on strike is a badge of shame for this government. Instead of showing leadership, he’s playing games with people’s health.”
Sunak called Starmer’s demand that he reopen negotiations with the RCN “just simply a political formula for avoiding taking a position on this issue.”
“If he thinks the strikes are wrong, he should say so,” Sunak said. “If he thinks it’s right that pay demands of nineteen percent are met, then he should say so. What’s weak, Mr. Speaker, is he’s not strong enough to stand up to the union.”
While Starmer has called on Sunak to negotiate with the RCN, he has not explicitly backed the 19% pay raise himself.
Unless the government returns to the bargaining table, the RCN plans to launch a second round of strikes on Dec. 20 to be followed by ambulance strikes that Wednesday and the next.
If the government still refuses to budge, the union said in a statement that nurses will strike for longer periods in more places starting in January, disrupting more health services.
Other industries are also set to see work stoppages this month, including workers on railways, buses, highways, and borders, as well as teachers, postal workers, baggage handlers, and paramedics.
See what others are saying: (BBC) (CNN) (The Guardian)
Fortnite Developer Sued By Parents for Making the Game as “Addictive as Possible”
One child mentioned in the lawsuit played over 7,700 rounds of Fortnite in two years.
Epic Games Sued
A Quebec City judge recently approved a 2019 class-action lawsuit accusing Fortnite developer Epic Games of deliberately making Fortnite addictive.
The parents who brought forward the lawsuit claim their children have become so obsessed with the game that in some cases, they’ve stopped eating, showering, or socializing. The lawsuit claims that these kids have played thousands of games since Fortnite’s release in 2017. In one example, a teenager played over 7,700 games in less than two years.
If the lawsuit succeeds, players addicted to Fortnite living in Quebec since September 2017 could receive compensation. The plaintiff’s attorney, Philippe Caron, reports that over 200 parents outside the lawsuit have reached out to him, saying their child’s well-being has diminished since downloading Fortnite. He told The Washington Post that they are very confident about their case.
Epic Games Responds
“We plan to fight this in court,” Natalie Munoz, a spokesperson for Epic Games said to The Post, “We believe the evidence will show that this case is meritless.”
Munoz also said that Fortnite does allow parents to supervise their child’s playtime and require permission for purchases.
The parents involved in the lawsuit are claiming that they were not aware of the dangers playing Fortnite could pose for their children.
“If she had been informed by the defendants of the risks and dangers associated with the use of FORTNITE,” the lawsuit says of one guardian. “She would have categorically refused to allow the game to be downloaded.”