BEIRUT: Lebanese cautiously welcomed Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s resignation Tuesday in Downtown Beirut, following violent clashes between protesters and supporters of Hezbollah and the Amal Movement.
On the 13th day of nationwide protests, a mob destroyed and burned tents belonging to protesters in Downtown Beirut’s Martyrs’ Square and Riad al-Solh, after beating demonstrators who were blocking the nearby “Ring Bridge.”
Hariri’s announcement came shortly after riot police and the Army dispersed the attackers and pushed them out of Downtown Beirut.
Martyrs’ Square was empty and subdued shortly after Hariri’s announcement, save for dozens of people gathering to clean up the wreckage from the clashes.
“This should have happened a long time ago. I’m not sure I can be completely happy, because I am disgusted by what we witnessed today. But, for now, it’s better than nothing” Joumana, 57, told The Daily Star, as she cleaned up the remains of a destroyed tent.
Hala Abou Ali, 30, shared similar sentiments. “We couldn’t believe what came down upon us. It was a very terrifying spectacle,” she said.
“Of course, we’re delighted [at the resignation] because the movement or revolution has achieved part of its demands, but at the same time we’re scared.”
Mohammad Sankari, 86, was also reluctant to celebrate.
“The problem now is not Hariri’s resignation. We are waiting for all those Amal [and] Hezbollah people who destroyed this area before. ... They are coming back and are coordinating,” he said.
Crowds gradually gathered in Martyrs’ Square as the evening progressed, while scores of protesters returned to the western side of the “Ring Bridge,” which had emptied following the earlier clashes.
While the mood there initially seemed more energetic than in Martyrs’ Square, an air of hesitation and fatigue could also be felt. In response, some members of the crowd tried to lift their spirits by playing drums and singing.
“This is the first step in the right direction. It has been the demand of the people since day one. It’s a bit late but it’s better than never,” Ibrahim Mneimneh, 34, said of Hariri’s decision to step down.
“Hopefully this will ease the pressure on the streets. No matter what they do, like what they did today, it won’t deter us from keeping going,” he added.
Perla Joe Maalouli, 27, was also cautiously optimistic.
“It’s just a little bite of the cake, but this is a revolution against the whole system, not just Hariri. It’s against sectarianism.
“For me I can smile a bit and dance a bit, but I can only be 10 percent happy right now. I’m tired because we’ve been working so hard for the past 13 days. I’ve slept for two nights on the sidewalk and blocked roads since 4 a.m.”
Crowds in Riad al-Solh, one of the main sites of the earlier clashes, remained thin in the evening, the space mainly occupied by security forces personnel who regulated entry into the area.
Meanwhile, Lebanese media showed protesters in Tripoli celebrating by the hundreds. Green, red and white balloons distributed among the crowd formed an aerial image of the Lebanese flag.
Hundreds of celebrating protesters also congregated in Sidon. However, supporters of Hariri held a solidarity stand in the neighborhood of Al-Najsa, where they raised pictures of the outgoing prime minister and Future Movement banners.
Protesters took to the streets Oct. 17 against proposed tax hikes by the government. While the government withdrew its proposals, the people remained on the streets, demanding the removal of the ruling class, an end to the sectarian-based ruling system, early parliamentary elections and the return of “looted public funds.” - Additional reporting by Wael Taleb, Nick Newsom and Mohammed Zaatari