Beirut: Lebanon’s prime minister resigned Tuesday, bowing to one of the central demands of anti-government demonstrators shortly after baton-wielding Hezbollah supporters rampaged through the main protest camp in Beirut, torching tents, smashing plastic chairs and chasing away protesters.
The demonstrators later returned to the camp in time to hear the news that Prime Minister Sa’ad Hariri announced he would step down after hitting a “dead end” in trying to resolve the crisis, which has paralysed the country for nearly two weeks. The protesters erupted in cheers at the news.
The Hezbollah rampage marked a violent turning point in Lebanon’s protests, which have called for the resignation of the government and the overthrow of the political class that has dominated the country since the 1975-1990 civil war. The government is dominated by factions allied with Hezbollah, the most powerful armed group in the country.
“I tried all this time to find an exit and listen to the voice of the people and protect the country from the security and economic dangers,” Hariri said. “Today, to be honest with you, I have hit a dead end, and it is time for a big shock to confront the crisis.”
Protesters told Gulf News they were feeling like ‘hopeful and proud winners’ after Hariri’s resignation. Surrendering to one of the Lebanese demonstrators’ central demands, Hariri broadcast from Bayt Al Wasat (his residence) to announce that he was heading to the presidential palace in Baabda to submit his written resignation to President Michel Aoun.
Shortly thereafter, protesters started flocking back to Riad Solh and Martyrs Square to celebrate what they saw as their first step towards victory. Gulf News spoke to a cross section of protesters at Riad Solh, who were in a celebratory mood and could be seen dancing, and singing the national anthem. Law student Reem Dandal said: “To be completely honest, the resignation of Hariri gave us hope that what we’re actually doing on the ground will get us to someplace better.”
Lawyer Ali Abbas (right) said the resignation had been the demand from day one. “It came following protesters’ pressure. First objective has been achieved, now the upcoming step should be forming a small-government of independent technocrats to run the country. That minimised government should also have the independence and utmost authority to form a special judicial committee to investigate all acts of corruption and return public funds stolen by the elites,” Abbas told Gulf News.
Media expert Aline Fouad has been participating in protests since they began 13 days ago, an experience she described as “unprecedented and dear to the heart”. “Things started materialising today after the announcement of Hariri’s resignation ... as a first step, this is remarkably good and is to our (Lebanese) advantage. It’s an ongoing process that will be long and we have to be patient,” she said.
Ghida Hariri, a medical student, believes it was a good step he took, and was what the people wanted. “We’ve been calling for the resignation of the entire government and the deputies of the Lebanese Parliament. The next step should be forming a technocratic government and holding early parliamentary elections. And then, eradicating all forms of corruption, bringing corrupt leaders to justice, and recovering stolen funds,” she said.
“It’s just the beginning ... we’re not going out of the streets until this entire regime is toppled,” said Fatima Ebrahim, a college teacher. “Despite all the sabotage and thuggish behaviour that happened today at Riad Solh and Martyrs Square, the protesters won’t leave the streets and stop their revolution until all the demands have been met and the entire system is changed. We are not afraid ... we are trying to get a better future for us and the future generations,” she said.
-With inputs from agencies