Beirut: Lebanese President Michel Aoun told anti-government demonstrators to go home on Tuesday, provoking a new surge of unrest, which claimed the first life in nearly a month of nationwide protest.
Lebanon is facing one of its most serious crises since the end of 1975-1990 civil war as weeks of nationwide protests demanding the removal of a corrupt political class show little sign of ending. After appearing to lose momentum, demonstrations took an angrier turn after Aoun’s remarks as youths burned tires and closed major roads to press their demands.
In a televised interview from the presidential palace in Baabda, Aoun said a new government would have to resemble the line-up brought down by popular protest late last month and those who couldn’t live with the political realities should leave.
“I ask the Lebanese not to behave with such negativity especially as this can lead to counter negative behaviour and, consequently, a confrontation,” Aoun said. “If they continue this way, even if we don’t give them a slap, the country will die.”
As the interview ended, thousands of people descended onto the street across Lebanon, setting fires, pitching tents and renewing their demands for change.
In the first death since the uprising began on October 17, a protester loyal to Druze leader Walid Jumblatt was shot as the army tried to reopen a thoroughfare south of Beirut. He later died.
New Prime Minister?
Aoun said formal consultations to name a new prime minister would begin on Thursday or Friday but could be delayed while politicians hammer out the shape of the next cabinet.
Lebanon has been without a government since Prime Minister Saad Hariri resigned late last month in the face of the uprising, which is demanding the removal politicians accused of pillaging public coffers to the brink of bankruptcy.
Demonstrators are calling for a government of experts that’s able to steer Lebanon through a financial crisis that has put pressure on the currency peg. Aoun rejected that demand, saying experts should be represented alongside the political parties that dominate the elected parliament. That includes the Free Patriotic Movement led by his son-in-law, Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil, who’s been a particular target of public insults.
After Aoun’s comments, outraged protesters stepped up calls for him to resign too. Some called the president “the squatter in the palace”, while others chanted “they are all a bunch of thieves”.
Aoun confirmed reports that efforts were under way to push Hariri back to the premiership but he was, so far, hesitant to return. The president asked protesters to go home and allow him and the future government to carry out the reforms required, a demand that appears to have.
“We want a government that is appropriate and can fight corruption and have the courage to do so and devise an economic plan as well as prepare the country to move towards a civil society,” Aoun said.