Amid nationwide protests, Lebanon's PM presents 72 hour ultimatum

Hariri said he would give himself, along with the rest of the ruling class, 72 hours to demonstrate commitment in putting forth palpable solutions to appease the current state of affairs.
by Georgi Azar

18 October 2019 | 21:44

Source: by Annahar

  • by Georgi Azar
  • Source: Annahar
  • Last update: 18 October 2019 | 21:44

An anti-government protester makes victory signs in front a fire set to block a road during a demonstration in Beirut, Lebanon, Thursday, Oct. 17, 2019. Scores of people are protesting in Beirut and other parts of Lebanon over the government's plans to impose new taxes amid a harsh economic crisis in the country. (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar)

BEIRUT: Chants of "thieves, thieves" could be heard echoing through the streets of a chaotic Beirut for the second night running. Despite officials calling for restraint, their pleas fell on deaf ears. 

Hours before, Prime Minister Saad Hariri attempted to ease tensions, acknowledging the difficulties and ailments felt by the vast majority of Lebanese. 

"I understand people's anger and know that we are running out of time," he said in an address to the nation as thousands of protesters gathered across Riad al Solh and Martyr's Square in downtown Beirut. Hariri said he would give himself, along with the rest of the ruling class, 72 hours to demonstrate commitment in putting forth palpable solutions to appease the current state of affairs.

Lebanon's collective frustration as a result of years of mismanagement and blatant corruption finally erupted Thursday night, with protests carrying into Friday and turning violent in some instances. 

Scuffles between riot police and demonstrators broke out, with a number of injuries reported on both sides of the aisle. 

In Tripoli, former MP Mosbah Adhab’s convoy fired to disperse a group of protesters in Tripoli, resulting in the deaths of two protesters. 

Lebanon has been on a downward trajectory for a number of years, with the threat of slipping into an unhinged spiral growing with each passing day. 

High unemployment, estimated at around 30 percent, coupled with high inflation and increased taxation to make up for dwindling state revenues, have rubbed ordinary Lebanese the wrong way. 

We need “clear, decisive and final” decisions regarding proposed structural reforms to fix the ailing economy, Hariri said, placing the blame at the feet of his opponents who refused to go along with the plan. 

"Theoretically, all parties were in favor of implementing reforms but when it came to execution, it was a different matter," he said. 

The protracted Syrian refugee crisis, which flushed around 1.5 million refugees to Lebanon, coupled with dwindling international support and investments, mainly from Gulf states, has pushed the small Mediterranean country to the brink.

Near the front lines of the protests in Riad al Solh, violent fracases erupted with riot police as demonstrators attempted to push toward the Grand Serail, throwing bottles, rocks and fireworks. 

In response, tear gas was fire at the large crowd, with elderly men, women, and children caught in the crossfire.

"I can't breathe," a young woman gasping for air screamed, as innocent bystanders band together to escape the carnage.

Despite the peaceful and amicable nature of the vast majority of protesters, demonstrations evolved into riots as night fell, with a number of troublemakers setting fire to a building near Martyr's Square. 

On Thursday, similar attacks led to the deaths of two Syrian refugees who were asleep in a shop that was set ablaze.

"We will raise our voice and remain here until our demands are met," a father of two told Annahar. "All of them means all of them," he added, echoing the broad discontent felt toward the entire political class. 

The 72 hour ultimatum given by Hariri fell short of developing into a resignation warning, which would dissolve the Cabinet and thrust Lebanon into the abyss as it grapples with growing economic unease. 

 

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