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President says Palestinian Spring has begun

Sept. 5, 2012 9:40 P.M. (Updated: Sept. 7, 2012 2:21 P.M.)
CAIRO (Ma'an) -- President Mahmoud Abbas said Wednesday that the "Palestinian Spring" had begun, as Palestinians took to the streets across the West Bank in protest over rising prices.

"The Palestinian spring has begun, and we are in line with what the people say and what they want," Abbas said, addressing a meeting of Arab League foreign ministers in Cairo.

The president said the protesters' demands to reduce costs of basic goods and for regular payment of salaries were "right and fair."

"Hunger is disloyal," Abbas said, quoting a Palestinian proverb reflecting that hungry people thought only of their need for food. "We are trying to do what we can do to reduce prices."

'Enough is enough'

Hundreds of protesters marched on Nablus' city center on Wednesday calling for the resignation of Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, as young men torched tires in the street.

They demanded a reduction in prices of basic commodities along with "real" support to help Palestinians "stay firmly rooted in their lands."

Security services did not intervene in the demonstration, but firefighters extinguished a blaze caused by burning tires which caused the temporary closure of the road to the National Hospital.

"We are here to say to the government enough is enough … We want a government which lives just as its people live eating what the people eat," Khalid, a protester, told Ma'an.

Meanwhile, at a protest in Ramallah's central square a man tried to set himself and his daughter on fire. Bystanders managed to stop him and he was detained by police.

Hasan Qahwaji, in his 30s and originally from Gaza, tried to set fire to himself because he couldn't afford to pay for his daughter's cancer treatment, locals said. Abbas' office insisted Qahwaji had received significant financial support from the office's humanitarian department and several other sources.

The incident occurred a day after Khaled Abu Rabee, 42, doused himself in gasoline in Hebron. A security guard at the municipality building prevented him from setting the petrol alight. Abu Rabee, from al-Fawwar refugee camp, was struggling to make enough money to support two wives and feed his children.

Thousands demonstrated from Hebron to Jenin on Tuesday, calling on the Palestinian Authority to abolish the Paris Protocol with Israel, which they said rendered the Palestinian economy subordinate to Israel.

In Hebron, demonstrators set fire to an effigy of Fayyad. They chanted slogans calling to topple Fayyad's government and put an end to the skyrocketing prices.

In Ramallah, protesters shouted: "Fayyad! We are not egg-laying chickens," "I can’t fuel my car, so Fayyad can take it," "No to the government of indignity and hunger," "Until when will we continue to pay your expenses?," "We will not set ourselves ablaze for the sake of Fayyad" and "We were looking for Palestine, but now we are looking for a sack of flour."

Unions join protests

The federation of public transportation suspended services for 30 minutes across West Bank districts on Wednesday in protest over spiraling fuel prices as school children demonstrated near Bethlehem urging the PA and Fayyad to find a solution to rising prices.

The union of Palestinian universities warned Wednesday that all universities would join protests against high prices and deteriorating economic conditions next week.

The general secretariat of the union of Palestinian teachers also announced strike action. It said classes would be suspended Thursday after the fourth lesson, and staff at the Ministry of Education’s offices will go on strike at 1 p.m.

Fayyad said Wednesday that the Palestinian Authority had exerted and would continue to exert huge efforts to improve living conditions, and to cope with all difficulties as they emerged despite the serious financial crisis.

The Minister of National Economy Jawad Naji added that the PA would implement a series of measures to ease citizens' suffering and to contain the economic crisis. He said the fiscal crisis in Palestine stemmed from the global economic downturn.

After a day of protests on Tuesday, the Palestinian Authority cabinet asked a special economic committee to study a government memo prepared by the Ministry of National Economy about the rising cost of living in the occupied territories.

The committee was instructed to recommend measures to cope with the economic situation within two days.
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