Lebanon’s President Michel Aoun made no concrete concessions in his first public address since nationwide protests erupted against the country’s political elites a week ago, as his speech was met with jeers from demonstrators.
Calls for the government’s resignation have grown since protests engulfed Lebanon on October 17. But officials have argued that the nation cannot afford a political vacuum at a time when its economy may be on the verge of collapse.
“I heard many calls for regime change. Our regime will not be removed based on protests on the ground. Of course, the regime needs developing because it has spent years in paralysis,” Aoun said on Thursday.
The President appealed to protesters to help expedite an ambitious economic reform program unveiled by Prime Minister Saad Hariri on Monday, and vowed to step up measures against government corruption.
Aoun also called on protesters to end nationwide road closures that have paralyzed the country over the last seven days.
His speech was met with derision at a protest in central Beirut on Thursday.
Crowds in downtown Beirut’s Riad el Solh chanted: “All of them, means all of them and you are one of them!” The oft-repeated call by protesters has been taken to mean that all politicians across Lebanon’s sectarian divide were being targeted by the protests.
The President is a close political ally of the Shia group Hezbollah, which has a powerful armed wing in the country. Aoun’s son-in-law and the country’s foreign minister, Gebran Bassil, has been one of the main targets of the protests.
Lebanon’s demonstrators have protested rapidly deteriorating economic conditions in the country. Around a third of the country lives under the poverty line, according to the World Bank.