Lebanon slides deeper into turmoil, no sign of new government

Beirut (Reuters) – A new wave of protests paralysed Lebanon on Wednesday after President Michel Aoun enraged demonstrators by urging them to end their revolt against corruption and cronyism in the political establishment.

One month after the eruption of nationwide protests, Lebanon is in deep political and economic crisis with no sign of its leaders agreeing on a new government to replace the outgoing cabinet of Saad al-Hariri, who quit as premier on Oct. 29.

Banks, which were shut for half of October, closed again this week over staff security concerns. Most transfers out of the country have been blocked and, with U.S. dollars scarce, the pegged Lebanese pound is weakening on a black market.

Though the protests have been overwhelmingly peaceful, tensions have surfaced since Tuesday evening when Aoun gave a televised interview in which he said Lebanon faced “catastrophe” if the revolt did not stop.

After he spoke, protesters took to the streets across Lebanon and one was shot and killed after an altercation with Lebanese soldiers at a roadblock south of Beirut.

The man was a follower of Walid Jumblatt, a veteran Druze politician and former civil war militia leader, who has urged his supporters to remain calm.

Protesters blocked roads again on Wednesday.

Fights broke out on Wednesday in the predominantly Christian area of Jal al-Dib near Beirut, where protesters faced off with other people including Aoun supporters angered by roadblocks, footage broadcast by the LBC television channel showed.

An armed man in a car drove past protesters in Jal al-Dib waving a gun and fired into the air, the National News Agency said. It said protesters took away his weapon and hit his car.

Aoun’s interview included remarks that angered protesters, including a comment widely understood to mean he was telling them to emigrate if they didn’t like how the country was run.

A 33-year-old protester, Linda Boulos Mikari, blocking a road in Beirut’s Nahr al-Kalb area, said Aoun had talked to the protesters as if they were children. “Respect us a little,” she said. “Respect this people sleeping in the streets for a month.”

“The reaction (to Aoun) was very spontaneous. People felt we have to ramp up the pressure … We will not stop,” said Joelle Petrakian, protesting at a blocked highway in central Beirut.

Several dozen protesters watched by troops and police sat blocking the normally busy road. Nearby lay smouldering debris ignited during protests overnight triggered by Aoun’s remarks.