Beirut: Hundreds of Lebanese protesters have set up tents, blocking traffic in main thoroughfares and sleeping in public squares to enforce a civil disobedience campaign and keep up the pressure on the government to step down.
Banks, universities and schools remained closed on Friday, the ninth day of nationwide protests.
Protesters briefly closed the highway linking the southern city of Sidon to Beirut, burning tires and blocking traffic. The army later removed the tires and reopened the road.
Protesters set up tents on the main highway linking eastern and western Beirut, allowing through only ambulances and army vehicles.
Despite government promises of reforms, the leaderless protesters have dug in, saying the country’s incumbent officials are corrupt and must go.
The unprecedented mass protests come amid a deepening economic crisis in Lebanon.
‘All means all’
Lebanon’s largely sectarian political parties have been wrong-footed by the cross-communal nature of the demonstrations, which have drawn Christians and Muslims, Shiite, Sunni and Druze.
Waving Lebanese national flags rather than the partisan colours normally paraded at demonstrations, protesters have been demanding the resignation of all of Lebanon’s political leaders.
“All of them means all,” has been a popular slogan.
In attempts to calm the anger, Prime Minister Saad Hariri has pushed through a package of economic reforms, while President Michel Aoun offered Thursday to meet with representatives of the demonstrators to discuss their demands.
But those measures have been given short shrift by demonstrators, many of whom want the government to resign to pave the way for new elections.
“We want to stay on the street to realise our demands and improve the country,” one protester, who asked to be identified only by his first name Essam, told AFP.
We want the regime to fall... The people are hungry and there is no other solution in front of us
“We want the regime to fall... The people are hungry and there is no other solution in front of us,” said Essam, a 30-year-old health administrator.
‘Risk of chaos’
On Friday morning, protesters again cut some of Beirut’s main highways, including the road to the airport and the coast road towards second city Tripoli and the north.
On the motorway north of Beirut, demonstrators had erected tents and stalls in the centre of the carriageway.
But there was no sign any move by the army to try to reopen the road.
In central Beirut, where street parties have gone on into the early hours, groups of volunteers again gathered to collect the trash.
“We are on the street to help clean up and clean up the country,” volunteer Ahmed Assi said.
“We will take part in the afternoon to find out what the next stage will be,” said the 30-year-old, who works at a clothing company.
In a rare moment of violence in the otherwise peaceful demonstrations, scuffles broke out in central Beirut on Thursday, injuring one protester, when Hezbollah members began chanting slogans in support of their leader.
The partisan display grated with the non-sectarian atmosphere cultivated by most of the protesters.
Lebanon’s Al-Akhbar newspaper, which is close to Hezbollah, headlined its front page “Risk of chaos”, saying the movement had pledged to work to reopen blocked roads.
Hezbollah maintains a large, well-disciplined military wing.