BEIRUT: Saad Hariri resigned as prime minister of Lebanon on Tuesday after nearly two weeks of daily mass protests against corruption and a collapsing economy.
“I tried throughout this period to find a way to listen to the people’s voices and protect the country from security, economic and livelihood risks,” Hariri said in a live televised speech. “Today, I have reached a dead end.”
The prime minister submitted his resignation and that of his government in a letter handed to President Michel Aoun at the Baabda Palace. It was not clear if the president had formally accepted the resignation, but sources told Arab News that Hariri was determined to quit.
Protesters throughout Lebanon, who have demanded the removal of the government, erupted in cheers at the news, chanting and singing the national anthem.
One activist in Riad Al-Solh Square in Beirut said opinions were divided “between withdrawal from the streets and the use of other means to achieve our demands on corruption … or standing our ground to finish what we started.”
Progressive Socialist Party leader Walid Jumblatt called for “the formation of a government that gives confidence abroad,” and Future Movement leader Mustafa Alloush said there was agreement on the need for an administration of technocrats.
Earlier, armed mobs linked to Hezbollah and the Amal party smashed up a protest site and attacked demonstrators in central Beirut. Interior Minister Raya Al-Hassan said Hariri’s resignation was “necessary to avoid sliding into civil strife whose danger we witnessed today in central Beirut.”
The black-shirted mobs armed with sticks and stones clashed with protesters blocking roads in the capital.
The flashpoint near the Ring Bridge, which connects the two halves of the city, followed claims by local residents that the protesters were ruining livelihoods by blocking the road.
After initial arguments, water bottles and then stones were thrown, as internal security forces tried unsuccessfully to break up violent confrontations. Hundreds of anti-protest supporters then advanced toward Riad Al-Solh Square in the heart of downtown Beirut.
One of them said: “We are hungry, too. My children are hungry. These protesters have money and their children are studying at the American University of Beirut, whose fees are more than $20,000 (SR75,000) per semester, so how can they be hungry?”
Another warned the protesters they were armed and shouted “don’t make people shoot at you. People are starving as a result of your movement. The whole country is made up of clans. It is forbidden to block roads and ask for the identities of people. And do not touch our political and religious references.”
Others accused embassies of supporting the protesters, a claim made recently by Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah.
An advocate said: “This is a foreign movement and we will stay in the squares; we will not leave. Their demands are ours, but we do not take royalties like them to open the roads, and do not prevent fuel and vegetable trucks from delivering to the markets as they do.
“Neither Hezbollah nor the Amal Movement asked us to take to the streets,” another said. “We came down on our own. The protesters blocking the road asked me for my ID card. This is unacceptable. We will not tolerate this behavior, so we have taken to the streets to keep them away.”
Demonstrators responded saying their actions were peaceful and they were “protesting for your sake and won’t leave the street.”
However, protest camps in Riad Al-Solh Square and Martyrs’ Square were destroyed by the Hezbollah and Amal supporters who burned down tents and threw away food and water bottles. Dozens of motorcyclists from both sides rode into the squares wielding sticks, chasing people and throwing stones at them.
The Lebanese army used tear gas in an attempt to disperse the crowds as the clashes lasted for more than three hours.
The civilian protesters later returned to the squares, and after hearing news that Hariri had decided to quit, vowed to continue their “peaceful revolution.”
Activists from the Free Patriotic Movement slammed the actions of the protesters in a wave of social media posts.
Civilian protests were also reportedly being planned in other parts of Lebanon, particularly Tripoli, in response to the situation in Beirut.