Lebanon’s president said he is willing to meet with protesters, suggesting a political reshuffle was on the table after anti-government demonstrations continued for an eighth day on Thursday.
President Michel Aoun promised thousands of protestors in a televised event that their “shouts will not be wasted,” after the government’s multiple attempts to suppress rising tensions failed.
“We will discuss what we can do together to achieve your objectives without causing collapse and chaos,” he said.
Protests broke out earlier this month against a new government tax on WhatsApp calls. But it quickly morphed into deep-seated frustration over badly needed economic reform.
An anti-government protester holds up a placard with the pictures of Shiite cleric Imam Moussa al-Sadr, left, who went missing with his two companions and Che Guevara with Arabic that reads "You are the cause owner," as Lebanese riot policemen separates between anti-government protesters, background, and Hezbollah supporters during a protest in Beirut, Lebanon. (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar)
“That speech did not convince us at all. We’ve heard it a lot before. That’s why we’re staying here until the government falls,” a university student attending the protests told Reuters.
Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri has backed reforms, promising to return public money stolen by corrupt officials, imposing tariffs on banks, and cutting top officials' salaries, but his efforts have done nothing to stop the demonstrations.
Lebanon’s President Michel Aoun has told tens of thousands of protesters that an economic reform package put forth by the country’s prime minister will be the "first step" toward saving Lebanon from economic collapse. (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar)
The protesting has paralyzed the country as banks and schools remain closed during the demonstrations. The president has expressed fears of a government collapse.
"The reform paper that was approved will be the first step to save Lebanon and remove the specter of financial and economic collapse," said Aoun.
Lebanon’s political system has been based on centuries-old religious sects. The country allocates power between a Christian president, Shi’a Muslim speaker of the parliament, and a Sunni Muslim prime minister.
A majority of the political backlash comes from younger Lebanese citizens, of all religious backgrounds, who are frustrated with the lack of career and financial opportunities available to them.
Anti-government protesters shout slogans against Lebanon’s President Michel Aoun as they listen on a speaker while he addressees the nation during a protest in the town of Jal el-Dib north of Beirut, Lebanon, Thursday, Oct. 24, 2019. (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar)
“Everyone has reached a point where we cannot take it anymore. We are unified in our outrage,” Sabbah, a 25-year-old student, told Reuters.