Protesters close roads in Lebanon after president interview

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Protesters in Lebanon have closed main roads in Beirut and other parts of the country following a televised interview by the president in which he said there could be further delays before a new government is formed

Thousands of protesters closed main roads in Beirut and other parts of Lebanon late Tuesday following a televised interview by the country’s president in which he said there could be further delays before a new government is formed.

President Michel Aoun said it could still take days to set a date for consultations with heads of parliamentary blocs for the naming of a new prime minister and added that the best option is for the new Cabinet to include both politicians and technocrats.

Prime Minister Saad Hariri resigned his government Oct. 29 in response to the unprecedented nationwide protests since the middle of last month. The protests erupted over proposed new taxes and snowballed into calls for the government to resign and for the entire political elite that has ruled Lebanon since the end of its 1975-90 civil war to step aside.

Protesters are demanding a government made up of technocrats that would get immediately to work on the necessary reforms to address the worst economic and financial crisis Lebanon is passing through in decades. Politicians are divided among other things over whether the new Cabinet should be made up of experts only or include politicians.

Asked during a TV interview whether consultations could begin Thursday or Friday, Aoun said: “This is true, but we are still waiting for some answers from concerned sides. If we don’t get answers we may be delayed by some days.”

“If it is going to be (a government) of technocrats only, it will not have political cover and won’t be able to win a vote of confidence in parliament,” Aoun said, referring to political groups that control a majority of seats in the 128-member legislature and want to be part of the government.

Protesters angered by Aoun’s comments responded by closing major roads in Beirut and other parts of the country for the first time in days demanding a quick formation of a Cabinet.

Asked if Hariri would form the new government, Aoun, said “I cannot say before the consultations end.”

Asked about the protesters and their demands, he said, “I invited them for a dialogue but did not hear back from them.” He urged protesters to go back to their homes because demonstrations are blocking work in the country.

The president also warned that the negative attitude of protesters “will lead to counter negative attitude and this could lead to confrontation.” Aoun was apparently referring to government supporters who have also demonstrated in support of the president over the past weeks.

“If you are gong to continue this way (protesting) you will be striking at Lebanon, striking at your interests and we will all lose,” Aoun said.

He urged people not to rush to banks to withdraw money, saying their deposits will be “guaranteed.” He said Lebanon will be eventually able to come out of the crisis, though he didn’t elaborate.

Lebanon’s banking association said banks would stay closed due to a strike by employees as the country’s financial crisis worsens. Banks were supposed to have reopened Tuesday following a three-day closure, but employees went on strike, complaining of aggressive behavior by customers.

Depositors have rushed to withdraw money in recent days amid the rapidly deteriorating economic and financial crisis.

Lebanon’s financial troubles have worsened since the mass protests erupted.

The country’s lenders have imposed varying capital controls that differ from bank to bank, triggering panic and anxiety among clients. Some have taken out their anger on employees.

The government has said it will continue to meet customer needs through ATM machines, but many Lebanese were unable to withdraw money Tuesday.

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