Roads blocked in Lebanon as protests enter third week

Beirut (AFP) –


Demonstrators kept up their roadblocks across Lebanon on Thursday, as their unprecedented protest movement demanding systemic political change entered its third week.

Traffic came to a standstill on major highways, as protesters erected metal barricades.

They waved through security and medical personnel, in a scene that has become routine since a proposed tax on calls via messaging apps first drew protesters onto the streets on October 17.

"I don't want to stand down," said Tarek Madhoun, 38, who was blocking a road in central Beirut.

The protest movement has swelled into a popular drive to remove a political elite which has remained largely unchanged since a devastating civil war ended three decades ago.

Euphoric protesters experiencing a rare moment of national unity have pilloried politicians of all parties, calling for better public services, an end to rampant corruption and a complete overhaul of Lebanon's sectarian-based politics.

Bowing to street pressure, Prime Minister Saad Hariri submitted his government's resignation on Tuesday.

The announcement led to an easing of the two-week-old lockdown, with some main roads briefly reopening.

Banks had been due to reopen on Friday but protesters stayed on the streets, keen to use one of the only forms of leverage they have to press their demands.

"They thought our demands ended when the government resigned," said Ghadi, 21, from central Beirut.

"But we still have many more demands... including a technocratic and independent government, a new electoral law and a new parliament."

Embattled President Michel Aoun is due to deliver a speech at 8:00 pm (1800 GMT) marking the third anniversary of his election as head of state.

On Wednesday, Aoun promised a "clean government", saying the protest movement "paved the way for big reforms".

Forming a government in Lebanon can take months, with every sectarian and party leader seeking to protect their own communal interests.