Public uproar in protest-hit Lebanon over FM's Davos invite

Beirut (AFP) –


The planned participation of Lebanon's outgoing foreign minister at this week's World Economic Forum has sparked a public outcry in the protest-hit country, prompting calls to overturn his invitation.

Gebran Bassil, who remains as foreign minister in a caretaker capacity, has consistently come under fire from demonstrators mobilised since October 17 to demand the removal of a political class they deem incompetent and corrupt.

Demonstrators view him as a symbol of the sectarian, hereditary politics that stunted an economy now facing its worst crisis since the 1975-1990 civil war.

His scheduled appearance this week in the Swiss resort of Davos, where he will represent Lebanon, has sparked several online petitions urging the World Economic Forum to revoke his invitation to talk on unrest in the Arab World.

"He should not be present at a prestigious international forum such as Davos in our name," read one online petition that garnered more than 6,000 signatures.

"He should not be given a legitimate speak on behalf of a nation that has rejected him and accuses him of flagrant corruption."

A second petition making the same appeal garnered more than 12,000 signatures in a matter of hours.

"Gebran Bassil has been at the centre of all major disastrous decisions that led the country to a political crisis," it read.

"The Lebanese people cannot and will not accept a failed, corrupt and especially an ousted minister to still represent their voice on the world stage."

Bassil's planned participation in Davos has also sparked condemnation on social media networks, with some calling on Lebanese expatriates in Switzerland to mobilise.

"Go to Davos, follow him everywhere with flags and signposts saying - Bassil doesn't represent us," one user said on Twitter.

Lebanon's economic downturn coincides with a political deadlock that has left the country without a fully functioning government since Saad Hariri bowed to popular pressure on October 29 and quit the premiership.

The man designated to succeed him, Hassan Diab, has so far failed to form a government of independent experts -- a key demand of protesters.

Angered by the delay, protests have turned violent in recent days.

Scuffles with security forces at the weekend wounded more than 540 people on the two sides, according to a toll compiled by AFP from figures provided by the Red Cross and Civil Defence.