Lebanon's Saad Hariri to resign amid attacks on protesters

Prime Minister says he is relieved because 'it is what the people want'

Lebanon's Prime Minister Saad Hariri on Tuesday told the nation he was resigning after a tense 13th day of mass rallies.

Mr Hariri made his announcement hours after Hezbollah and Amal overran and tore down the main site of demonstrations in central Beirut.

No one is bigger than his country

“For 13 days, the Lebanese people have been waiting for a political solution that stops the deterioration," he said, in front of a portrait of his assassinated father.

"Throughout this period, I tried to find a way out, through which we can listen to the voice of the people and protect the country from the security and socio-economic risks.

"Today, I reached a dead end and I am going to Baabda Palace to submit the resignation of the government to President Michel Aoun and to the Lebanese people in all regions, in response to the will of the many Lebanese who took to the streets demanding change.

"To all the partners in political life I say our responsibility today is to protect Lebanon and prevent any fire from reaching it.

"Our responsibility is to improve the economy and there is a serious opportunity that should not be lost.

"No one is bigger than his country."

About 20 minutes after his short address, he arrived at the presidential palace in Baabda to meet Mr Aoun.

Presidential sources said Mr Aoun was studying Mr Hariri's resignation but would not instruct the Cabinet to become a caretaker government on Tuesday because he first wanted to speak to other parties in the coalition.

“I’m relieved because resigning is what the people wanted,” Mr Hariri said after the Baabda meeting.

But the move makes the situation in Lebanon “even more serious”, French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told Parliament in Paris on Tuesday.

Mr Le Drian called on Lebanese leaders to “do everything they can to guarantee the stability of the institutions and the unity of Lebanon".

"Lebanon needs a commitment from all political leaders to look within themselves and make sure there is a strong response to the population," he said, offering France's help.

France controlled Lebanon under a mandate between 1923 and 1946, and has maintained strong political, economic and cultural ties with Beirut.

The UN special co-ordinator for Lebanon, Jan Kubis, urged decisive action to quickly form a new government that would respond to “the aspirations of the people".

Earlier on Tuesday, hundreds of pro-Hezbollah and Amal Movement supporters stormed protest sit-ins in downtown Beirut, smashing the camp and setting it on fire.

They attacked protesters who have paralysed the country for the past 13 days to bring down the government.

Thousands across the country have taken to the streets in a show of anger at years of corruption, inefficient government and poor provision of services.

They demanded the resignation of the government, which Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah said would not happen.

The men first stormed a sit-in blocking the ring road that connects east and west Beirut. They punched and kicked protesters who have shut the road since the weekend.

As the demonstrators scattered, the men charged down the hill towards Martyrs' Square, the centre of the movement, where they pulled down tents and smashed everything they could find.

As they ran up towards the prime minister’s office at Riad Al Solh, police, who had not tried to intervene except when people were being beaten, fired tear gas.

The army moved in and, alongside riot police, began to push the men back towards the ring road and out of the main squares.

Afterwards, a spokesman for UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres told The National: "The leaders of political parties bear responsibility for the actions of their supporters."

Amal leader and Parliamentary Speaker Nabih Berri called for calm and said the crisis was “not sectarian".

"It's like a war zone," Mohammed Serhan, a political activist with the National Bloc, a small secular party, told The National during the fighting at the ring road.

“We have demands, they just have riots. They see someone lying on the street who got hit or stumbled and they hit them on the face, stomach and chest.

"They are organised and attacking us. The security forces are not doing enough to keep us safe. They take sticks from the police to hit us."

A protester with a ripped shirt said he was attacked when he tried to protect a man lying on the ground from others who were trying to take his phone.

“They wanted his mobile phone because he was filming them. They were hitting him so hard,” said Nassim Azzam, 30, a member of the activist group Li Haqqi.

But when the streets began to clear and the Hezbollah and Amal supporters retreated, hundreds of protesters began returning the central square in central Beirut, picking up overturned tables and clearing the mess.

By the time Mr Hariri was giving his resignation speech, dozens of protesters had already gathered in Martyr’s Square to replace the tents destroyed earlier in the day.

Holding a broom, Joumana Hayek, a philosophy teacher in her fifties, jokingly told a group of men sitting around a plastic table to help.

“It’s time to clean, not to talk,” Ms Kayek told them.

“Even if they destroy all the area, we will rebuild it again. We feel pity for [the attackers]. We know that they suffer more than us but they cannot do anything. They think like sheep.”

As she was cleaning, the Lebanese flag was hoisted back on top of a giant fist with the word "revolution" written across it, to cheers from the protesters.

Amal and Hezbollah supporters had tried to set fire to the fist.

A few hundred metres away, on a major motorway where violent confrontations with Amal and Hezbollah supporters took place a few hours earlier, crowds were back chanting “revolution”.

Tents set up by protesters were still intact.

“We are not afraid of more violence. The army will protect us,” said Elias Samih, a protester in his twenties.

“We want a good government without political parties and without religion that will work for Lebanon. We want something new.

In nearby Sassine, one of the main squares in the traditionally Christian neighbourhood of Ashrafieh, Mr Hariri’s speech was broadcast on a giant screen.

Several protesters holding batons had come to watch.

Rumours had spread that Amal and Hezbollah supporters would turn to their neighbourhood after attacking protesters downtown. But they did not arrive.

“I was very nervous when I saw what was happening," said Anthony Barakat, 20. “We have batons for self-defence. If anybody comes to disturb the peace here, we will not accept it.

"It is not acceptable than in 2019, in Lebanon, people can do such things and destroy tents of people who were just putting music on and eating manouche."

Toufic Daher, 62, condemned the attacks and said he agreed with Mr Hariri’s departure.

“We are now one people, only Lebanese," Mr Daher said. "We do not need a new civil war. Now, we need peace and a good country.

"I think it is a good thing that Hariri resigned.”