BEIRUT (AFP) – Hundreds of thousands of protesters rallied Sunday across Lebanon to condemn official corruption and demand the government resign, on the eve of a deadline for politicians to accept a reform package.
They were the largest rallies yet in a four-day wave of protests that have gripped the Mediterranean country, the biggest such movement in years which brought to a standstill the capital Beirut, second city Tripoli and other major towns.
The demonstrations have crippled the country and threatened the government of beleaguered Prime Minister Saad Hariri, who has given cabinet members until Monday to support his reform plan.
Sunday a cabinet official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told AFP that Lebanon’s main parties have agreed to the proposals which Hariri hopes the government will adopt at a session Monday.
“He sent it to all factions and received their agreement, especially from the Free Patriotic Movement and Hezbollah, and tomorrow he will go to the cabinet to approve it,” he said, naming two key coalition partners who are opposed to the government’s resignation.
Across the country, protesters waved the national flag and chanted “revolution” or “the people demand the fall of the regime”, echoing slogans from the 2011 Arab Spring uprisings that toppled governments.
Lebanon’s protests have grown steadily since public anger first spilled onto the streets Thursday evening in response to a proposed tax on calls via WhatsApp and other messaging services.
While the government quickly dropped that plan, the leaderless protests morphed into demands for a sweeping overhaul of the political system, with grievances ranging from austerity measures to poor infrastructure.
The cabinet official said the reform plan was not intended to impose further taxes, but would include privatisation in some sectors.
But many Lebanese were unimpressed with the news.
“Cancelling taxes is not enough. We want corruption to be held to account. We want our money back,” said Hassan, a tradesman.
Protestor Rana Medawar agreed.
“They have been lying for more than 20 years. We are fed up and we want all the politicians to go,” she said.
More than a quarter of Lebanon’s population lives below the poverty line, the World Bank says, while the political class has remained relatively unchanged since the end of a devastating 15-year civil war in 1990.