Lebanese PM sets deadline for reforms as protests turn violent

Amid violent protests over corruption in high places and proposed tax hikes and calls for the resignation of the government, Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri, above, set a 72-hour deadline to his team to announce reforms to resolve the economic crisis engulfing the nation.

Hariri acknowledged that the country is going through a difficult period and it is but natural that people seek the truth from him as they have done during crises in the past.

While it is true that the protests erupted from people’s suffering, there is a peaceful way to express it, Hariri said, adding that he backs all non-violent protests.

Rallies prompt authorities concerned to address the problems. As people’s representatives, it is their duty to tackle issues like corruption.

Hariri said he had been trying to find ways to tackle problems like corruption and foreign debt for the past three years. But, time and gain, his efforts were foiled by political adversaries, he said, without naming them.

Time is now running out for a solution. Within 72 hours, political parties must come up with a clear answer to the problem or face the consequence, Hariri said.

Protesters are blaming top leaders including President Michel Aoun, Foreign Minister Jebran Bassil and Hariri for the current economic mess.

Amid protesters’ demand for Hariri’s resignation, he received dozens of phone calls from envoys of various countries discouraging him from stepping down, Nidaa al-Watan newspaper said on Saturday.

Hezbollah secretary-general’s political aide Hussein Khalil dispatched a personal envoy to stop Hariri from resigning.

‘Economic war on Lebanon’

After holding talks with Aoun, Bassil accusing “some insiders” of waging an economic war on Lebanon to overthrow the government.

On the ongoing street protests, Bassil said the situation may worsen if reforms are delayed.

The protesters are demanding overhaul of Lebanon’s political system.

Thursday’s protests were fuelled by a proposed tax on calls via messaging apps such as WhatsApp.

Thousands of protesters took to the streets, burned tyres and blocked major highways, including the one leading to Beirut’s international airport, on Friday.

Protestors shattered the glass facade of several public and private buildings in Beirut. Policemen were attacked with stones and fire crackers.

Progressive Socialist Party leader Walid Jumblatt tweeted to his supporters to hold peaceful demonstrations against the government.

A team representing the protesters met Aoun on Friday. The President said he would do his best to ease their pain.