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
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’