Lebanon struggles to reopen roads as sit-ins continue

BEIRUT (AP) — Lebanese security forces were still struggling to open some roads yesterday as protesters continued their civil disobedience campaign in support of nationwide anti-government demonstrations.

Schools had been set to reopen for the first time in two weeks, but late Wednesday many parents received text messages saying their schools would remain closed for security reasons. The state-run National News Agency reported that schools in some areas would remain closed until further notice.

Banks, schools and many businesses have been shuttered since mass protests erupted on October 17. The protests were ignited by a proposed tax on the WhatsApp messenger service but rapidly escalated into calls for the resignation of the government and sweeping political change.

Banks are set to reopen today, amid concerns the severe fiscal crisis that preceded the protests could worsen.

President Michel Aoun, one of the main targets of the protesters’ anger, was set to deliver a speech later in the day.

Anti-government protesters lie on a road, as they scream and hold each others while riot police try to remove them and open the road, in Beirut, Lebanon. PHOTO: AP

Prime Minister Saad Hariri resigned Tuesday, handing the demonstrators their first victory but plunging the country into greater uncertainty. It typically takes weeks or even months to form a government.

France called on Lebanon to “quickly” form a new government.

“Everything must be done to avoid provocations and violence and preserve the citizens’ right to demonstrate peacefully,” Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said in a statement.

“It is crucial for Lebanon’s future that a new government is quickly formed that is able to lead reforms the country needs.”

France, Lebanon’s former colonial ruler, has close ties to Hariri and other Lebanese leaders.

The protesters stood down on Wednesday as the army cleared most major thoroughfares, but they packed public squares that night and returned to the streets a day later, insisting their revolution was far from over.