Prime Minister Saad Hariri set a 72-hour deadline for his coalition partners to come up with responses for Lebanon’s economic crisis, as Friday’s resistance against austerity measures escalated on the second day.
The protests, which broke out over government plans for new taxes, are the most serious challenge to Hariri’s national unity government which came to power less than a year ago.
Hariri, in an address to the country, blamed parties in his coalition for obstructing reforms to Lebanon’s debt-laden economy, while it is truly obvious that capitalism itsef, and the structural adjustment policies his regime has enacted has caused widespread misery.
As Hariri spoke, protesters in Beirut’s Martyr Square continued to demand the resignation of the country’s political leadership, including Hariri, President Michel Aoun, Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, and Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil.
Demonstrators, who are angry over plans to impose new taxes amid rising costs of living, chanted “Revolution! Revolution!” and “The people demand the fall of the regime”. They also accused Lebanon’s top leaders of corruption, and called for the country’s strict banking secrecy laws to be lifted so that state funds stolen over the decades to be returned for the benefit of the population.
“Thief, Thief, Michel Aoun is a thief,” many chanted.
In Lebanon, insulting the president can land you in jail.
The demonstration escalated into clashes late on Friday, as reactionary police forced used tear gas against the people at the Riad al-Solh square.
Protesters also took to the streets in the eastern Bekaa valley and in Tripoli, Lebanon’s second-largest city, where local media said that several protesters were wounded when a legislator’s bodyguards opened fire on a crowd.
Riots were also reported in the Rounieh and Zahle prisons.
The demonstrations began on Thursday after the cash-strapped government announced plans to impose new taxes, including on WhatsApp voice calls. Overnight on Friday, protesters blocked streets across the country by burning tyres, and in some areas set fire to buildings in acts of defiant resistance.
Amid the unrest, banks, shops and schools closed operations on Friday.