BEIRUT (AP) — Lebanese troops reopened major roads around Lebanon Thursday after a two-day closure triggered by a TV interview with President Michel Aoun in which he called on protesters to go home.
The roads linking Beirut with the country’s south and north were opened shortly before noon Thursday, as well as others around the country.
Protesters have been holding demonstrations since October 17 demanding an end to widespread corruption and mismanagement by the political class that has ruled the country for three decades.
Aoun said Thursday that the demands of protesters are being followed adding that “they will be among the top priorities of the government that we are working on forming in the near future.”
Aoun expressed hopes in comments released by his office that a new Cabinet “will be formed in the coming days” after removing obstacles that have been delaying the formation.
Prime Minister Saad Hariri resigned his government on October 29, meeting a key demand of the protesters. Since then there have been disagreements over the new Cabinet as Hariri insists it should be made up of technocrats who will concentrate on solving Lebanon’s worst economic and financial crisis in decades while other politicians, including Aoun, want it to be a mixture of technocrats and politicians.
“Dealing with the developments should be based on national interests that need cooperation from all sides to achieve pursued goals,” Aoun said.
Caretaker Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil tweeted that the priority is to form a “salvation government” and prevent anyone from taking the country into a confrontation. Bassil is Aoun’s son-in-law and close aide.
The opening of the roads came a day after protesters started building a wall inside a tunnel on the highway linking Beirut with north Lebanon leading to an outcry by the public who saw it as a reminder of the 1975-90 civil war.
In the town of Jal al-Dib, just north of Beirut, troops pushed away protesters from the highway and removed barriers that had been blocking the road since Tuesday night.
In the town of Choueifat south of Beirut, thousands of people attended the funeral of a 38-year-old man who was shot dead by a soldier at a protest Tuesday night. Alaa Abou Fakher’s death marked the first such fatality since the economically driven demonstrations against the government engulfed the country last month.
That protest was ignited by comments made by Aoun in a televised interview, in which he said there could be further delays before a new government is formed.
Abou Fakher’s coffin was carried through the streets of Choueifat as women dressed in black threw rice on it from balconies in a traditional Lebanese gesture.
Bank employees announced they will continue with their strike on Friday for the fourth day amid concerns for their safety as some of them have been subjected to insults by bank clients who were not allowed to withdraw as much as they wanted from their accounts. The country’s lenders are imposing varying capital controls that differ from bank to bank, fueling the turmoil.