Security forces fired tear gas and chased down protesters in Beirut on Friday as tens of thousands of people across Lebanon marched to demand the removal of a political elite they accuse of looting the economy to the point of collapse.
Riot police in vehicles and on foot rounded up a number of protesters, according to Reuters witnesses. They fired rubber bullets and tear gas canisters, dispersing demonstrators in Beirut’s commercial district.
Addressing protesters, Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri blamed his partners in government for obstructing reforms that could have resolved the economic crisis and gave them a 72-hour deadline to stop blocking him, otherwise hinting he may resign.
He said Lebanon was going through an “unprecedented, difficult time”. Lebanon’s biggest protests in a decade recall the 2011 Arab revolts that toppled four presidents. Lebanese from all sects and walks of life have come out on to the streets, waving banners and chanting slogans urging Hariri’s government to go.
“There are those who have placed obstacles in front of me since the government was formed, and in the face of all the efforts that I have proposed for reform,” Hariri said, without naming names.
“Whatever the solution, we no longer have time and I am personally giving myself only a little time. Either our partners in government and in the nation give a frank response to the solution, or I will have another say.
“The deadline left is very short. It’s 72 hours,” he said. Protesters poured through villages and towns across Lebanon as well as the capital Beirut for a second day. No political leader, Muslim or Christian, was spared their wrath.
Their chants called for leaders including President Michel Aoun, Hariri and parliament speaker Nabih Berri to step down. The mood was a mixture of rage, defiance, and hope.
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As night fell, crowds waving Lebanese flags marched and drove through the streets with patriotic music blaring from loudspeakers while shouting: “Our demands are one, our objective is one: the people want the downfall of the regime.”
Security forces fired tear gas, angering many demonstrators. “You should be protecting us, shame on you,” one protester shouted as he covered his face against the choking fumes.
Some protesters, including men in black hoods, blocked roads, set tires on fire and used iron bars to smash storefronts in Beirut’s posh downtown district.
With fires blazing, some streets in the capital looked like a battlefield, strewn with rubber bullets, smashed glass, torn billboards, and other debris. Firefighters struggled late into the night to douse the flames.
As demonstrators crowded around Aoun’s palace in Baabda, the United Nations urged all sides to refrain from actions that could lead to increased tensions and violence.