Hariri said open to returning as Lebanese PM, under certain conditions

A day after resigning, ex-premier said willing to take up post again if next government is made up of technocrats and is able to implement economic reforms

Lebanon's then Prime Minister Saad Hariri speaks to an unidentified man during a press conference at his residence in downtown Beirut, November 13, 2018. (Joseph Eid/AFP)
Lebanon's then Prime Minister Saad Hariri speaks to an unidentified man during a press conference at his residence in downtown Beirut, November 13, 2018. (Joseph Eid/AFP)

Saad Hariri is reportedly willing to return as Lebanon’s prime minister after announcing his resignation Tuesday, if certain conditions are met.

Hariri was asked Wednesday by Lebanese President Michel Aoun to stay on as a caretaker prime minister, but may be willing to remain in a full-time capacity if a new cabinet “includes technocrats and [will] be capable of quickly implementing reforms needed to stave off economic collapse,” the Reuters news agency reported Wednesday.

Quoting a senior official, the news agency said a new Hariri-led cabinet could not include certain prominent politicians in the outgoing government, but did not name them.

Hariri’s decision to step down came amid nationwide protests against corruption and sectarianism that have paralyzed the country.

His resignation marked the first major win for the protest movement, which has called for the resignation of the government and the overthrow of the political class that has dominated the country since the 1975-1990 civil war and is blamed for the current economic crisis.

Lebanese anti-government protesters celebrate the resignation of Prime Minister Saad Hariri in Beirut on October 29, 2019, on the 13th day of anti-government protests. (Patrick Baz/AFP)

Hariri’s announcement came after days of apparently unfruitful efforts to reshuffle posts within his uneasy coalition, as tension mounted on the ground between protesters and security forces bent on reopening the country for business.

On Wednesday, life slowly returned to normal in Beirut after troops reopened major roads following 13 days of protests.

There was no significant resistance from protesters as army units with bulldozers took down barriers and tents set up in the middle of highways and major intersections. A few tents and protesters remained in public squares in many parts of the country, but most roads were reopened by midday.

Hariri’s resignation Tuesday came shortly after supporters of the terror group Hezbollah and its ally the Shiite Amal movement rampaged through the main protest camp in Beirut, torching tents, smashing plastic chairs and chasing protesters away.

The leaderless protesters had mixed opinions on whether they should leave the streets or continue with their campaign, which has left banks, schools and other businesses shuttered since October 18. Most said they would give politicians a chance to form a new government but return to the streets in case of delay.

“We will not clash with the army because it was supportive of us and we will support it,” said Rayyan Abu Ltaif, a protester. “We will give them (the government) 72 hours as they did, then we will escalate and will go back to the streets.” As he spoke, he watched the army and police dismantle tents on a major intersection in Beirut.

Lebanese soldiers arrive to open roads from after anti-government protesters structures outside the capital Beirut in Jal el-Dieb on October 30, 2019. (Anwar Amro/AFP)

The resignation plunges Lebanon deeper into turmoil and uncertainty as it grapples with a severe economic and financial crisis that has led to a scarcity of hard currency and the local currency losing value for the first time in more than two decades. Lebanon is facing a deep-running fiscal crisis as it staggers under one of the highest debt ratios in the world — $86 billion, or more than 150% of the country’s gross domestic product.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called Tuesday for Lebanese leaders to “urgently” form a new government following Hariri’s resignation.

“Any violence or provocative actions must stop, and we call upon Lebanon’s army and security services to continue to ensure the rights and safety of the protesters,” he said in a statement.

A French photographer is attacked by Hezbollah supporters while covering clashes between them and anti-government protesters, in Beirut, Lebanon, October 29, 2019. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla)

The rampage by supporters of Hezbollah and Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri’s Shiite Amal movement on Tuesday marked a violent turning point in the protests. The government is dominated by factions allied with Hezbollah, the most powerful armed group in the country.

Hariri had reluctantly worked with those factions as part of a national unity government that had failed to address an increasingly severe economic and fiscal crisis.

“I tried all this time to find an exit and listen to the voice of the people and protect the country from the security and economic dangers,” Hariri said Tuesday in announcing his resignation. “Today, to be honest with you, I have hit a dead end, and it is time for a big shock to confront the crisis.”

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