'Wake-up call': Lebanon's grand mufti calls for protesters' demands to be met immediately
The small but diverse country's economic and political fate hangs in the balance after three weeks of unprecedented demonstrations prompted Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri to resign last week.
"The time has come to meet the people's demands and the national free will that transcends sects, political parties, and regions," Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdul Latif Derian said in a televised address on the occasion of Prophet Mohammed's birthday.
"The time has come and is opportune, after this national wake-up call, for the reform process to begin and for those in power to form an emergency government made up of competent people, without delay," he said according to Reuters.
Maronite Patriarch Bechara Boutros al-Rai, Lebanon's top Christian religious authority, has also called for a new government to include qualified technocrats.
Derian added that it is time to "immediately proceed with carrying out the reform package prepared by Prime Minister Hariri to solve the country's problems".
Before he stepped down, Hariri proposed a package of reforms that aimed at easing Lebanon's economic crisis.
The package included a 50 percent salary reduction for current and former officials.
But while the protests were sparked last month by a proposed tax on WhatsApp calls - the last straw for many Lebanese long squeezed under the country's crippled economy - such proposals fail to meet the demands of most protesters who are calling for a complete political overhaul.
The demonstrations have instead morphed into a cross-sectarian street mobilisation against an entire political class that has remained largely unchanged since the end of the country's 1975-1990 civil war.