SWITZERLAND, OCTOBER 29 – Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri said he will resign on Tuesday amid unprecedented protests against a ruling elite many accuse of corruption and leading Lebanon towards economic collapse unseen since the 1975-90 civil war.
In an address on Tuesday afternoon, Hariri said that he would submit his government’s resignation to President Michel Aoun in response to the protests, saying he had “reached a dead end.” Hariri called on all Lebanese to protect civil peace.
His resignation would defy the powerful Shi’ite Muslim group Hezbollah, whose leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah has twice said he was against such a step, citing the risk of a dangerous void.
In the street, supporters of Hezbollah and its Shi’ite ally Amal forced protesters from a roadblock they had set up in Beirut, tearing down their tents and fighting with them, forcing the police to intervene, the first such incident in the capital.
The Hezbollah and Amal supporters fanned out in the downtown area shouting “Shia, Shia” in reference to themselves and cursing protesters who have been calling for revolution.
Hariri last week sought to defuse popular anger through a set of reform measures agreed with other groups in his coalition government, including Hezbollah to, among other things, tackle corruption and long-delayed economic reforms.
But with no immediate steps towards enacting these steps, they did not satisfy demonstrators whose demands include the resignation of his coalition government.
The nationwide protests have paralysed Lebanon at a time of deep economic crisis – banks were closed for a 10th day on Tuesday along with schools and businesses, with the pegged Lebanese pound weakening on a black market.
A report from credit rating agency S&P last week sounded the alarm over the financial situation. Central bank governor Riad Salameh called on Monday for a solution to the crisis in days to restore confidence and avoid a future economic meltdown.
Hariri has not spoken in public since October 21 when he announced reforms including steps to fix gaping holes in the finances of one of the world’s most heavily indebted states.
He has been pressing his feuding governing partners, including Hezbollah and President Michel Aoun, to carry out a major cabinet reshuffle to appease the protesters, but has run into strong opposition, political sources said.
A major dispute has flared between Hariri and other groups in his cabinet over the past 48 hours with his opponents accusing him of siding with protesters and not allowing security forces to remove them from the streets, the sources said.
Anti-government protesters had shut the Ring Bridge in central Beirut to traffic for several days, part of an extraordinary wave of unrest against Lebanese politicians over rampant corruption and dire economic conditions.