Hariri prepared to become Lebanese PM again but under 'certain conditions'

Hariri prepared to become Lebanese PM again but under 'certain conditions'
Saad Hariri is ready to lead a new government as anti-government protests continue to grip Lebanon.
3 min read
30 October, 2019
Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri resigned under pressure from the streets [Anadolu/Getty]

Saad Hariri, who resigned as Lebanon's prime minister Tuesday after weeks of protests, is prepared to return to his former role and lead a new government. 

Hariri would head a new government on the condition it "includes technocrats" and can quickly implement severely needed economic reforms, a senior official told Reuters.

President Michel Aoun acknowledged Hariri's resignation as prime minister on Tuesday but asked his government to stay on in a caretaker capacity until a new cabinet is formed.

The Lebanese government's resignation under pressure from the street looked set to ease a two-week-old nationwide lockdown but protesters vowed Wednesday to keep pushing for deeper change.

The senior official told Reuters that any new cabinet led by Hariri would have to be without certain elite politicians who were in the outgoing government. 

Meanwhile, security forces reopened most roads that had remained largely blocked by protesters since a proposed tax on calls via messaging apps sparked a wave of demonstrations on October 17.

The unprecedented mobilisation swelled into a popular drive to remove a political elite which has remained largely unchanged since the end of the civil war three decades ago.

Euphoric protesters experiencing a rare moment of national unity have pilloried politicians of all parties, calling for better public services, an end to rampant corruption and a complete overhaul of sectarian-based politics.

When a sombre Hariri appeared on television to announce his resignation, crowds erupted into celebrations across the country but warned that the government's fall was only one of their demands.

"The resignation is not enough to get us off the streets," said Charbel, a 26-year-old draped in a Lebanese flag, who was still protesting in central Beirut on Wednesday.

"We need to keep up the pressure, but we should not keep the roads closed because now it's bothering even the people who were supporting the movement," he said.

Hariri's resignation came after counter-demonstrators loyal to some of his political rivals attacked the main protest site in the capital's Martyr's Square.

They destroyed tents and marquees and the rest of the temporary infrastructure that turned downtown Beirut into a huge encampment - hosting protests and political meetings by day, concerts and parties by night.

Well-organised protesters, however, swiftly cleaned up and returned to the site, occupying the main flyover again on Tuesday evening.

As roads reopened, the education ministry called on schools and universities to resume classes on Thursday morning, and banks were set to open again the following day.

The resignation announced by Hariri came after the failure of days of consultations with his fractious cabinet to agree on a reshuffle and meet some of the protesters' demands for a technocratic government.

Early in the protests, Hariri had hinted that resigning was an option but his rivals in the government coalition, including Aoun's party and its allies from the powerful Shia movement Hezbollah, had warned that a political vacuum could lead to chaos.

Hariri's suggestions were rejected by Aoun, whose son-in-law Gebran Bassil is the outgoing foreign minister and one of the most reviled figures for the protesters.

The 49-year-old Hariri, who had already stepped down twice as prime minister in 10 years, could yet return as the head of the next government.

Read also: Radical reform or total chaos for Lebanon?

Lebanon's economy, crippled by ballooning public debt, has been sliding to the brink of collapse in recent months.

Hariri announced a much-delayed reform package last week in a bid to address some of the protesters' demands and the requirements for a huge foreign assistance programme to be unlocked.

Some protesters want fresh elections to be organised, a move that would further delay the implementation of those reforms.

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