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Rival protests in Lebanon over embattled president

November 3, 2019

Hours after demonstrators came out to support Lebanese President Michel Aoun on Sunday, anti-government protesters poured into the capital to demand an end to the ruling political class.

Lebanon l Anti-government protests in Beirut
Image: picture alliance/AP Photo/B. Hussein

Tens of thousands of Lebanese protesters calling for an end to the political elite flooded the streets of Beirut on Sunday, marking the largest anti-government demonstration since the resignation of the country's prime minister. 

The mass rally came hours after thousands of demonstrators rallied outside Lebanon's presidential palace in the Beirut suburb of Baabda to show their support for Lebanese President Michel Aoun and his proposed political reforms.

The pro-Aoun gathering was a reaction to the recent weeks-long wave of violent protests against the government, which led to Prime Minister Saad Hariri's resignation on Tuesday. 

Previous anti-government protests had called on Aoun to resign. 

Lebanon at a 'dangerous crossroads'

Aoun's supporters waved the orange flags of his Free Patriotic Movement party and bore his portrait as they marched towards Baabda palace, accompanied by a long convoy of cars.

Some of the marchers said that while they backed general demands for political reform, they believed Aoun needed to stay in office to bring about change.

President Michel Aoun speaks from his desk
Aoun has voiced his support for establishing a technocratic government Image: picture-alliance/AP/Lebanese government/D. Nohra

Aoun had addressed anti-government protesters' demands for political reform late Thursday after Hariri's resignation, proposing that Lebanon move away from its sectarian political system and choose officials based on their expertise and capabilities, rather than their political loyalties.

Read more: Hashd al-Shaabi and Hezbollah: Iran's allies in Iraq and Lebanon

He also described the country as being at a "dangerous crossroads."

Following Hariri's resignation, Aoun is required to work with parliamentarians to select a new prime minister, who will have to form a government. 

Aoun is supported by the Iran-backed Hezbollah movement, which has said the resignation of political leaders will waste time in implementing economic reforms and scuttle hoped-for international aid packages.

Technocratic government desired

The recent anti-government demonstrations were sparked by anger over the country's poor public services, corruption and its weak economic situation, which includes high unemployment.

Read more: Opinion: Lebanon needs more than just protests and outrage

Lebanese protesters carry a national flag while they walk through a tunnel
Anti-government protests that started in late October brought daily life to a standstill and resulted in violent clashesImage: picture-alliance/Zuma/ Le Pictorium/B. Tarabey

While such protests have abated since Hariri's resignation, another one is scheduled for later on Sunday. The current demands focus on establishing a technocratic government to carry out economic reforms.

Protesters accuse the governing political class, which came to power after a 15-year civil war from 1957-1990, of having destroyed the economy

Lebanon's government is a confessional system, meaning specific posts must be filled by a member from one of the country's main religious communities. It is seen as a way to ensure fair political representation, though protesters accuse governing officials of ruling to their own benefit and maintaining a closed, sectarian system among a few political families. 

cmb,stb/sms (AFP, AP, Reuters)

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