Lebanese army clears streets as politicians talk resignations
Sources say government could resign and technocratic administration take office by weekend
Lebanon’s protests seem poised to enter a new phase on Wednesday, with the army forcibly removing demonstrators and counter-protesters gathering in some areas.
The army cleared protesters who were blocking major roads north of Beirut for much of the morning. Despite soldiers' efforts, many motorways around the country remained blocked.
But in the afternoon, videos went viral of Lebanese soldiers crying as they stood in front of crowds singing the national anthem.
Mass demonstrations have brought the country to a standstill for a week as protesters demand the resignation of the government and an end to decades of ineffective leadership.
Despite a package of reforms pushed by Prime Minister Saad Hariri, anger remains. Sources said the failure to ease public ire has led to talk of forming a technocratic administration.
The military leadership issued a statement saying it stood by the protesters in the “rightful demands” but called on them not to block roads.
Mr Hariri met security chiefs to discuss the situation. His office said he “stressed the need to maintain security and stability, and to open roads and secure the movement of citizens".
But the protest movement has realised its ability to keep the country paralysed is the best weapon it has against the state.
In south Lebanon’s Nabatiyeh, 15 people were injured in scuffles between demonstrators and a counter-protest backing the Speaker and leader of the Amal Movement, Nabih Berri. The army had tried to keep both groups separate.
Mr Berri said on Wednesday that the country could no longer bear the paralysis of the week of demonstrations, according to Amal Movement MP Ali Bazzi.
Meanwhile, former prime minister Najib Mikati and Bank Audi, one of the country’s largest lenders, have denied charges of illegitimate gains after Mount Lebanon prosecutor Ghada Aoun filed charges on Wednesday.
Ms Aoun also laid charges against Mr Mikati's son Maher and brother Taha, the state news agency NNA reported, saying she would refer the charges to a judge for investigation.
Judicial sources said the charges related to loans made by Bank Audi and subsidised by the central bank, Reuters reported.
A communications adviser to Mr Mikati said the loans were purely commercial and met central bank regulations.
Bank Audi also denied involvement.
Mr Makati said that the charges were a political message after he had called for the resignation of the current government and had not backed the election of Mr Aoun in 2016.
Greek Orthodox Metropolitan Elias Audi threw his weight behind the protesters, saying it was better for politicians to resign than continue with the current situation.
“For those who call for opening the roads to go to work, were they working before [the protests]?” he asked in reference to the chronically high unemployment rate in the country.
“Even if we had 20 vacant seats, a vacuum is better than what we are living today.”
Mr Audi’s comments came before a meeting with Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai and other bishops.
The Patriarch also backed the protesters, calling Mr Aoun to take steps to meet the demands of the people.
But questions are growing as the president, 82, is yet to directly address the country or appear publically since the start of the rallies last week.
His office said rumours of the president’s ill-health and even death were greatly exaggerated.
Banks are set to remain closed on Thursday, making it a week since they were last open.
The Association of Banks has insisted that ATMs are still functioning and both debit and credit cards work as normal. However, reports of empty ATMs are growing and many people are concerned about running out of money.
University and schools remain shut.
Updated: October 24, 2019 07:59 AM