Lebanon’s PM considering resigning after nearly 2 weeks of protests — report

Lebanon’s PM considering resigning after nearly 2 weeks of protests — report

Saad Hariri to give press conference at 4 p.m. local time after reports he could step down imminently

Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri gives an address at the government headquarters in the center of the capital Beirut on October 18, 2019. (Marwan Tahtah/AFP)
Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri gives an address at the government headquarters in the center of the capital Beirut on October 18, 2019. (Marwan Tahtah/AFP)

Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri is moving toward resigning after nearly two weeks of nationwide protests that have brought much of the country to a standstill, an official source told the Reuters news agency on Tuesday.

According to the report, the premier could make the announcement as soon as Tuesday or Wednesday, and it was later announced he would give a press conference on Tuesday at 4 p.m. local time.

Shops reopened on Tuesday for the first time in several days, but banks, schools and universities have remained closed, raising concerns that many Lebanese would not be able to receive their salaries at the end of the month. There are also fears of a run on the banks that could further deplete the country’s limited supply of foreign currency, potentially affecting its ability to import wheat, fuel and medicine.

The Association of Banks in Lebanon said banks would remain closed Tuesday for a 13th consecutive day “in light of the continuation of popular movements and awaiting the stabilization of general conditions.” But the banks said they were determined to pay public sector salaries, especially to members of the security forces, and had enough liquidity to do so.

Anti-government protesters set fire to tires blocking a highway that links the capital Beirut to northern Lebanon during a protest against the Lebanese government in Zouk Mosbeh, north of Beirut, Lebanon, October 28, 2019. (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar)

In the latest sign of crisis, ATMs have mostly stopped dispensing American dollars, which have long served as a widely accepted second local currency. That has added to concerns the government may no longer be able to maintain a fixed rate of exchange with the Lebanese pound.

The protests are directed at the political elites who have dominated the country since its 1975-1990 war, and who many accuse of corruption and economic mismanagement. The demonstrations have paralyzed the country, and the prolonged closure of banks has raised fears of an economic collapse.

Long before the protests began, Lebanon’s economy was already suffering from a massive budget deficit and rising unemployment. Its debt ratio of $86 billion is one of the highest in the world, accounting for more than 150 percent of its gross domestic product.

The protesters blame the economic crisis on political leaders from various religious sects and factions who have dominated the country since the civil war. They say the sectarian power-sharing arrangement that ended the war has spawned networks of corruption, patronage and nepotism that have depleted the treasury and gutted public services.

Thirty years after the end of the war, power outages are still frequent, the water supply is unreliable and trash goes uncollected in many areas.

Volunteer help to clean up streets in the aftermath of violent protests against the Lebanese government in Beirut, Lebanon, October 21, 2019. (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar)

In many locations, demonstrators have sat or lain in the streets in a form of civil disobedience, forcing security forces to drag them away by their arms and legs. In others, they have blocked routes with overturned dumpsters and burned tires, sending black smoke up into the air. Protesters set fires to block the airport road in Beirut early Monday before Lebanese troops in armored personnel carriers arrived to clear the route.

Lebanese soldiers on Monday forcibly removed protesters from a highway linking the southern city of Sidon to the capital, Beirut, and briefly detained around a dozen of them. No weapons were used and there were no reports of serious injuries from the confrontation.

The protests have been largely peaceful, with security forces exercising restraint. There have been few reports of arrests or serious injuries since the demonstrations began, and security forces have calmly stood guard around mass rallies held in public squares.

On Sunday, thousands of protesters formed a human chain stretching along major highways in and around Beirut.

Anti-government protesters form a human chain as a symbol of unity, during ongoing protests against the Lebanese government, on the Mediterranean waterfront promenade, in Beirut, Lebanon, Oct. 27, 2019 (AP Photo/Bilal Hussein)

Last month, The New York Times reported that Hariri gave over $16 million to a South African swimsuit model who says they were romantically involved. The payments from the prime minister to Candice van der Merwe began in 2013, when he was not in office but still leader of his Future Movement party.

The report, which cited South African court documents, said the two met in the Seychelles in 2013, when Hariri was between terms as prime minister and managing the family business.

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