Lebanese army opens major roads after premier’s resignation
BEIRUT (AP) — Life slowly returned to normal in the Lebanese capital Wednesday after troops reopened major roads following 13 days of nationwide protests that paralyzed the country and forced the prime minister to resign.
There was no significant resistance from protesters as army units with bulldozers took down barriers and tents set up in the middle of highways and major intersections. A few tents and protesters remained in public squares in many parts of the country, but most roads were reopened by midday.
The move comes a day after Prime Minister Saad Hariri announced his government’s resignation after nearly two weeks of nationwide protests, in the first major win for the protest movement. President Michel Aoun accepted his resignation Wednesday and requested that he carry on heading the now-resigned government in a caretaker capacity until a new one is formed.
The resignation came shortly after supporters of the militant group Hezbollah and its ally the Shiite Amal movement rampaged through the main protest camp in Beirut, torching tents, smashing plastic chairs and chasing protesters away.
The leaderless protesters had mixed opinions on whether they should leave the streets or continue with their campaign, which has left banks, schools and other businesses shuttered since Oct. 18. Most said they would give politicians a chance to form a new government but return to the streets in case of delay.
“We will not clash with the army because it was supportive of us and we will support it,” said Rayyan Abu Ltaif, a protester. “We will give them (the government) 72 hours as they did, then we will escalate and will go back to the streets.” As he spoke, he watched the army and police dismantle tents on a major intersection in Beirut.
The resignation plunges Lebanon deeper into turmoil and uncertainty as it grapples with a severe economic and financial crisis that has led to a scarcity of hard currency and the local currency losing value for the first time in more than two decades. Lebanon is facing a deep-running fiscal crisis as it staggers under one of the highest debt ratios in the world — $86 billion, or more than 150% of the country’s gross domestic product.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called Tuesday for Lebanese leaders to “urgently” form a new government following Hariri’s resignation.
“Any violence or provocative actions must stop, and we call upon Lebanon’s army and security services to continue to ensure the rights and safety of the protesters,” he said in a statement.
The rampage by supporters of Hezbollah and Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri’s Shiite Amal movement marked a violent turning point in the 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 and is blamed for the current economic crisis. The government is dominated by factions allied with Hezbollah, the most powerful armed group in the country.
Hariri had reluctantly worked with those factions as part of a national unity government that had failed to address an increasingly severe economic and fiscal crisis.
“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 Tuesday in announcing his resignation. “Today, to be honest with you, I have hit a dead end, and it is time for a big shock to confront the crisis.”