Lebanese president says willing to meet protesters - GulfToday

VIDEO: President offers to meet protesters paralysing Lebanon


Protesters surrounded by Lebanese soldiers during a demonstration in the town of Jal El Dib. AP

Gulf Today, Staff Reporter

Lebanese President Michel Aoun broke his silence after a week of unprecedented protests on Thursday, expressing willingness to meet demonstrators.

"I am ready to meet your representatives... to hear your demands," he said in a short televised speech, his first since daily street protests began on October 17.

Lebanese president Michel Aoun delivers a speech in Baabda, Lebanon, on Thursday. AP

There is no let-up in the anger of Lebanese nationals against government malfunctioning, which has been boiling for a week. Even as the army moved in, protests in Lebanon entered a second week on Thursday with demonstrators blocking main roads in Beirut and other parts of the country.

Meanwhile, anti-government rallies received major support from the country's Christian and Muslim leaders who described the weeklong protests as "a historic and exceptional popular uprising" against corruption and mismanagement and appealed to the government to meet the demands of the people.

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Sparked on October 17 by a proposed tax on calls made through messaging apps, the protests have morphed into a cross-sectarian street mobilisation against a political system seen as corrupt and broken.

Lebanese protesters take a selfie during a demonstration in the town of Jal el Dib on Thursday. AFP

On Thursday morning, demonstrators set up roadblocks around the capital.

A dozen young protesters, who pitched tents in the middle of the road, blocked one major east-west artery.

Sitting on the pavement with a red and white keffiyeh on his shoulders, a 30-year-old who had trained as a chef, said he had been protesting since the first day.

A video of one Lebanese soldier seemingly in tears after hearing protesters facing the soldiers singing the national anthem and chanting "peaceful, peaceful" has been widely shared online.

"We saw the tears of soldiers standing in front of us," Eli Sfeir, a 35-year-old demonstrator, said. "They are following orders and not happy about breaking up demos."

The Lebanese army is one of the most universally supported institutions in an often-divided country. A senior military official confirmed they had orders to reopen main roads and the army deployed in increased numbers in a number of spots, including the main road north of Beirut.

Anti-government protesters scuffle with Lebanese army soldiers during a protest in Jal Al Dib. AP

Groups of protesters again gathered to block them, sparking fears of the kinds of clashes seen during the first two days of the demonstrations.

Thousands gathered across the country, braving rain and a heavy military deployment.

Protests sparked on Oct.17 by a proposed tax on calls made through WhatsApp and other messaging apps have morphed into an unprecedented cross-sectarian street mobilisation against the political class.

Lebanese protester Cynthia Aboujaoude holds a picture of her face painted as the Joker in Beirut. AFP

Embattled Prime Minister Saad Hariri has presented a series of reforms including cutting ministerial salaries, but the rallies have continued -- crippling the capital Beirut and other major cities.

Protesters have vowed to stay on the streets until the entire government resigns.

On Wednesday Hariri held a series of meetings with security and military leaders, stressing the need to "maintain security and stability and to open reads and secure the movement of citizens," according to the state-run National News Agency.

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