Beirut, Lebanon – Prime Minister Saad Hariri set a three-day ultimatum for his coalition partners to resolve Lebanon's severe economic crisis on Friday as tens of thousands of anti-government protesters rallied across the country for a second day.
The protests, which erupted on Thursday over the plans for new taxes, are the most serious challenge for Hariri's coalition government, which came to power less than a year ago.
"I set a very short deadline," Hariri said. "Either give our coalition government partners a clear answer or I will have something else to say."
As he spoke, in Beirut's Martyr Square, protesters waving the Lebanese flag continued to dismiss the country's political elite. , including Hariri, President Michel Aoun, Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri and Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil.
Protesters who are angry about the government's plans to introduce new taxes in the face of rising living costs, shouted "Revolution! Revolution!" and "The people demand the fall of the regime." They also accused the Lebanese leadership of corruption and demanded that the country's strict banking secrecy laws be repealed and that state funds stolen over the decades be returned to the Treasury.
"Thief, thief, Michel Aoun is a thief," some sang, looking nervously around with smiles on their faces. In Lebanon, insulting the president can land you in jail.
"Everyone is tired of this, the situation is horrible, people have no money, the people fall apart, and all they give us is taxes, taxes, taxes," said Samir Shmaysri, a 39-year-old hairdresser.
"There is no reform process to even hope for the situation to improve."
Protesters also took to the streets of eastern Bekaa Valley and Tripoli, Lebanon's second-largest city, where local media said several protesters were injured when a legislator's bodyguards opened fire on a crowd.
The demonstration began after the cash-driven government announced plans to introduce new taxes, including on WhatsApp voice calls. Overnight on Friday, protesters blocked streets across the country by burning tires, and in some areas set fire to buildings and vandalized stores.
In the midst of the unrest, banks, businesses and schools closed the business on Friday.
radiating anger caused the Lebanese government to scrap plans for taxes on WhatsApp calls, but the measures have done little to placate protesters.
"We want to change the situation in the country, that's it," said a protester who blocked a road with a blazing debris near Beirut's Ras al-Nabaa area, just outside the city center.
"We tried to be peaceful, it didn't work."
The man had a wooden club with a charred end in his right hand. Beside him, another young man was busy blocking a road with smoldering trash cans and burning tires, after a Lebanese army car opened it to pass through.
Randa, who brought her young nephew to Friday's protest, said it was her first time on the streets
"It does not matter whether or not it is suitable for a child of his age," said the university teacher when The Lebanese national anthem ranged from speakers like her.
"Everyone has to come down," she said. "I feel that there is no partial inclination to the protests. The intention is pure."