‘Only 72 hours to back reforms’
Thousands of protesters outraged by corruption and proposed tax hikes burned tyres and blocked major highways in Lebanon on Friday, prompting the premier to give his government partners three days to support a reform drive.
Demonstrations flared Thursday, partly sparked by a proposed tax on calls via messaging apps such as WhatsApp, and grew into the largest in recent years, threatening to topple Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s fragile coalition government. After his speech, clashes flared in central Beirut’s Riyadh al Solh Square between demonstrators and security personnel, who fired volleys of tear gas to clear the plaza.
Thousands of people of all ages, sects and political affiliations had brought the capital to a standstill Friday, with demonstrations reported across the country. The protesters are demanding a sweeping overhaul of Lebanon’s political system, citing grievances ranging from austerity measures to poor infrastructure. In a televised address Friday evening, Hariri said he understood their anger and was trying to push through change.
He called on his coalition partners to give a “clear, decisive and final response to convince me, the Lebanese people and the international community... that everyone has decided on reforms, or I will have something else to say.” He gave them a 72-hour deadline to do so, without directly threatening to resign.