US says Lebanese protesters have 'legitimate' grievances

Washington (AFP) –


The United States called Wednesday on Lebanon's leaders to meet the "legitimate" grievances of citizens who have led a week of unprecedented protests against corruption.

David Schenker, the top State Department official for the Middle East, said the United States "stands ready to assist the Lebanese government" in taking action, without commenting on a reform package presented by Prime Minister Saad Hariri.

The demonstrations show the need for a "frank discussion" between leaders and citizens over "the Lebanese people's longstanding demands for economic reform and an end to endemic corruption," Schenker told reporters.

"It will be up to the Lebanese people to decide whether these measures go far enough to satisfy their legitimate desires for a prosperous and thriving country free of the corruption that has undermined its potential for too long," he said.

Protests sparked on October 17 by a proposed tax on calls made through WhatsApp and other messaging apps have morphed into a massive movement seeking to revamp the entire political system.

The demonstrations have crossed sectarian lines, bringing historic unity in a country still scarred by its civil war which ended in 1990.

The United States backed the Taif agreement that ended the war but more recently has focused its policy on trying to sideline Hezbollah, the Iranian-linked and strenuously anti-Israel Shiite militant movement which is part of Lebanon's government.