HARIRI STEPS DOWN AS LE­BANON PROTESTS ARE MET WITH VI­O­LENCE

Prime Min­is­ter’s de­ci­sion ‘in re­sponse to will of the Le­banese who took to the streets de­mand­ing change’ An­nounce­ment comes af­ter Hezbol­lah and Amal Move­ment sup­port­ers wreck pro­test­ers’ main site

The National - News - - FRONT PAGE - JAMES HAINES-YOUNG, KHALED YACOUB OWEIS and SUNNIVA ROSE

Stand­ing in front of a por­trait of his as­sas­si­nated fa­ther, Le­banon’s Prime Min­is­ter Saad Hariri told the na­tion he was re­sign­ing af­ter a tense 13th day of mass ral­lies.

Mr Hariri made his an­nounce­ment hours af­ter Hezbol­lah and Amal Move­ment sup­port­ers over­ran and tore down the main site of protests in cen­tral Beirut.

“For 13 days, the Le­banese peo­ple have been wait­ing for a po­lit­i­cal so­lu­tion that stops the de­te­ri­o­ra­tion,” he said.

“Through­out this pe­riod, I tried to find a way out, through which we can lis­ten to the voice of the peo­ple and pro­tect the coun­try from the se­cu­rity and so­cio-eco­nomic risks.

“To­day, I reached a dead-end and I am go­ing to Baabda Palace to sub­mit the res­ig­na­tion of the gov­ern­ment to Pres­i­dent Michel Aoun and to the Le­banese peo­ple in all re­gions, in re­sponse to the will of the many Le­banese who took to the streets de­mand­ing change.

“To all the part­ners in po­lit­i­cal life I say: our re­spon­si­bil­ity to­day is to pro­tect Le­banon and pre­vent any fire from reach­ing it. Our re­spon­si­bil­ity is to im­prove the econ­omy, and there is a se­ri­ous op­por­tu­nity that should not be lost,” he said.

“No one is big­ger than his coun­try”

About 20 min­utes af­ter his short ad­dress, Mr Hariri ar­rived at the pres­i­den­tial palace in Baabda to meet Mr Aoun. Pres­i­den­tial sources said Mr Aoun was study­ing Mr Hariri’s res­ig­na­tion but would not in­struct the Cabi­net to be­come a care­taker gov­ern­ment yes­ter­day be­cause he first wanted to speak to other par­ties in the coali­tion gov­ern­ment.

Af­ter the Baabda meet­ing, Mr Hariri said: “I’m re­lieved be­cause re­sign­ing is what the peo­ple wanted.”

The move, how­ever, makes the sit­u­a­tion in Le­banon “even more se­ri­ous”, French For­eign Min­is­ter Jean-Yves Le Drian told Par­lia­ment in Paris yes­ter­day. He called on Le­banese lead­ers “to do ev­ery­thing they can to guar­an­tee the sta­bil­ity of the in­sti­tu­tions and

the unity of Le­banon. Le­banon needs a com­mit­ment from all po­lit­i­cal lead­ers to look within them­selves and make sure there is a strong re­sponse to the pop­u­la­tion,” the min­is­ter said, of­fer­ing France’s help.

Paris, which con­trolled Le­banon un­der a man­date be­tween 1923 and 1946, has main­tained strong po­lit­i­cal, eco­nomic and cul­tural ties with Beirut.

UN Spe­cial Co-or­di­na­tor for Le­banon Jan Ku­bis urged de­ci­sive ac­tion to quickly form a new gov­ern­ment that will re­spond to “the as­pi­ra­tions of the peo­ple”.

Ear­lier yes­ter­day, a few hun­dred Hezbol­lah and Amal Move­ment sup­port­ers stormed protest sit-ins and Beirut’s city cen­tre, smash­ing an en­camp­ment and set­ting it on fire.

Sup­port­ers of the protest move­ment had taken to the streets in a wide­spread show of anger at years of cor­rup­tion, in­ef­fi­cient gov­ern­ment and poor ser­vice pro­vi­sion.

They have de­manded the res­ig­na­tion of the gov­ern­ment, a move that Hezbol­lah leader Has­san Nas­ral­lah said would not hap­pen.

The Hezbol­lah and Amal Move­ment sup­port­ers first stormed a sit-in block­ing the ring road that con­nects east and west Beirut, punch­ing and kick­ing pro­test­ers who have shut the road since the week­end.

As the demon­stra­tors scat­tered, the men charged down the hill to­wards Mar­tyrs’ Square, the epi­cen­tre of the protest move­ment, where they pulled down tents and smashed ev­ery­thing they could find.

As they ran up to­wards the prime min­is­ter’s of­fice at Riad Al Solh, po­lice, who had largely not tried to in­ter­vene ex­cept when peo­ple were be­ing beaten, fired tear gas.

The army moved in and, along­side riot po­lice, be­gan to push the men back up to­wards the ring road and out of the main squares. A spokesman for UN Sec­re­tary Gen­eral Antonio Guter­res told The

Na­tional that “the lead­ers of po­lit­i­cal par­ties bear re­spon­si­bil­ity for the ac­tions of their sup­port­ers”.

Amal leader Nabih Berri called for calm and said the cri­sis was “not sec­tar­ian”.

“It’s like a war zone,” Mo­hammed Ser­han, a po­lit­i­cal ac­tivist with the Na­tional Bloc, a small sec­u­lar party, told The Na­tional dur­ing the fight­ing on the ring road.

“We have de­mands, they just have ri­ots.

“They see some­one ly­ing on the street that got hit or stum­bled and they hit them in the face, stom­ach and chest ... they are or­gan­ised and at­tack­ing us.

“The ISF is not do­ing enough to keep us safe. They take sticks from the po­lice to hit us.”

A pro­tester with a ripped shirt said that he had been at­tacked when he tried to pro­tect a man on the ground from oth­ers who were try­ing to take his phone.

“They wanted his mo­bile phone be­cause he was film­ing them. They were hit­ting him so hard,” said Nas­sim Az­zam, 30, an ac­tivist with Li Haqqi, a civil so­ci­ety group.

But when the streets be­gan to clear and the sup­port­ers re­treated, hundreds of pro­test­ers be­gan re­turn­ing to the cen­tral square in cen­tral Beirut, pick­ing up over­turned ta­bles and clear­ing the mess caused in the chaos.

As Mr Hariri was giv­ing his res­ig­na­tion speech, dozens of pro­test­ers had al­ready gath­ered in Mar­tyrs’ Square to re­build tents. Hold­ing a broom, Joumana Hayek, a phi­los­o­phy teacher in her 50s, jok­ingly told a group of men sit­ting around a plas­tic ta­ble dis­cussing the lat­est events to help.

“It’s time to clean, not to talk,” she said.

“Even if they de­stroy all the area, we will re­build it again.” she said. She de­scribed those who at­tacked pro­test­ers as ig­no­rant.

“We feel pity for them. We know that they suf­fer more than us but they can­not do any­thing. They think like sheep,” she said.

As she was clean­ing, the Le­banese flag was hoisted back up on top of a gi­ant fist, prompt­ing cheers from the crowd of pro­test­ers.

A pro­tester with a ripped shirt said that he had been at­tacked when he tried to pro­tect a man on the ground

Le­banese Prime Min­is­ter Saad Hariri an­nounces in Beirut yes­ter­day his de­ci­sion to step down af­ter hit­ting a ‘dead-end’

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