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Lebanese PM Resigns after Two Weeks of Protests

Lebanese PM Resigns after Two Weeks of Protests

Tuesday, 29 October, 2019 - 17:30
Lebanon's Prime Minister Saad Hariri hands over his resignation letter to President Michel Aoun at the Baabda Palace, in Baabda Lebanon October 29, 2019. (Dalati & Nohra)

Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri submitted his resignation on Tuesday, succumbing to nearly two weeks of unprecedented nationwide protests against corruption and sectarianism.

Hariri's express and somber televised address was met by cheers from crowds of protesters who have remained mobilized since October 17, crippling the country to press their demands.

"It has become necessary for us to make a great shock to fix the crisis. I am going to the Baabda Palace to submit the government's resignation," said Hariri, who had already stepped down twice from the same post.

He said his decision comes "in response to the will of many Lebanese who took to the streets to demand change" in protests he called "historic".

The move -- which marks the most significant win by demonstrators yet -- will restart the complicated task of parliament forming a new government if it is accepted by the president.

President Michel Aoun, a political ally of Hezbollah, could now either accept Hariri’s resignation and begin consultations toward forming a new government, or ask him to rethink.

It took nine months to form the Hariri coalition cabinet that took office in January.

The resignation came after days of apparently unfruitful efforts to reshuffle posts among Hariri’s uneasy coalition partners and also as tension mounted on the ground between protesters and security forces bent on re-opening the country for business.

In his speech on Tuesday, he said he had reached a deadlock, urging the political class to protect the country.

Sami Nader, director of Levant Institute for Strategic Affairs, said "Hariri is opening the door to a solution because the resignation is the only way for a decent exit from the current crisis."

France, one of Hariri's top allies and Lebanon's key partner in a crucial $11-billion aid plan, voiced its fears that the resignation would "make the crisis even more serious".

Germany hoped the resignation will not undermine Lebanon’s stability, Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said on Tuesday.

“The further development in Lebanon is for us and for the whole region of decisive importance. We hope possible future protests will be peaceful,” Maas told reporters after meeting his Egyptian counterpart Sameh Shoukry in Cairo. “We don’t need a political vacuum (in Lebanon),” he added.

A nationwide cross-sectarian protest movement has gripped Lebanon for almost two weeks, calling for an overhaul of a political class viewed as incompetent and corrupt.

Banks and schools have remained closed and the normally congested main arteries in Beirut blocked by protesters, despite the government's adoption of an emergency economic rescue plan last week.

Banks and schools will remain closed on Wednesday.

'Not enough'

After Hariri's announcement, protestors across the country erupted in applause.

Hundreds gathered in the northern city of Tripoli, as well as the southern city of Sidon, from where his family hails.

In Tripoli -- home to festive protest raves -- large crowds gathered in the main al-Nour square waving the Lebanese flag.

"This resignation is welcome but it is not enough. It is only one part of a larger list of demands," said Tima Samir, a 35-year-old mother of two.

"We want the entire system to change and well stay on the streets until all our demands are met,” he said according to AFP.

In Sidon's central square, people sang and danced, as stores gave away free sweets.

Ahed Madi, a demonstrator, said the festive scenes in the city were especially "symbolic."

"Saad Hariri is from this city and this city has always embraced him. But today, the people want change," he told AFP.

Protesters have insisted on a complete overhaul of the country's sectarian-based governance and celebrated the emergence of a national civic identity.

Tens of thousands of people joined hands across the country on Sunday, from Tripoli in the north, to Tyre in the south, to symbolize a newfound national unity.

The protests had been relatively incident-free, despite tensions with the armed forces and attempts by party loyalists to stage counter-demonstrations.

But prior to Hariri's speech on Tuesday, dozens of rioters descended on a rally site near the government headquarters, where they attacked protesters, torched tents, and tore down banners calling for "revolution", said an AFP correspondent in the area.

The counter-protesters chanted slogans hailing the leaders of Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah and Amal head and parliament Speaker Nabih Berri as they pushed roadblocks aside and provoked protesters.

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