Thousands of Lebanese rallied near the presidential palace in a major show of support for embattled President Michel Aoun, after more than two weeks of huge nationwide protests against the country’s ruling elite.
Aoun’s supporters on Sunday filled up a two-kilometre-long (one-mile-long) road leading to the palace in Baabda, outside Beirut.
“We are here, General. We won’t abandon you as long as we live,” one poster at the rally read, responding to the protest movement calling for his departure, among other demands.
Some Aoun supporters held up portraits of the 84-year-old president, while others waved Lebanese flags and orange-coloured banners of the political party he founded, the Free Patriotic Movement.
“General Aoun is a reformist and sincere man – not corrupt nor a thief,” a supporter who gave her name as Diana told AFP news agency.
“There has been corruption in the state for 30 years. The president isn’t responsible. He’s trying to fight against graft,” she said.
Hours later, tens of thousands of anti-government protesters marched to a major square in downtown Beirut, demanding consultations with the parliamentary blocs to name a new prime minister.
Lebanon has been paralysed by mass protests since October 17, with demonstrators saying the confessional political system on which the government is based is problematic as it spawns patronage and clientelism. They are demanding a new government to be formed comprised of technocrats unaffiliated with the political class.
Another demonstration to demand a complete overhaul of the political system is planned to take place later on Sunday in Beirut.
Al Jazeera’s Stefanie Dekker, reporting from Baabda, said people at the rally sided with the calls for better public services and economic opportunity, they disagreed that the president should resign.
“Even though a lot of people will tell you that they agree with demands in the sense of economic reforms [and] anti-corruption [measures], they don’t want to see a change in the system,” Dekker said.
Last week, Prime Minister Saad Hariri announced his cabinet would step down, but it is still unclear what a new government would look like and if it will include independent technocrats as demanded by demonstrators.
In the middle of this political crisis Lebanon is also facing acute economic problems. The country suffers from high unemployment, little growth and one of the highest debt ratios in the world, with the debt burden reaching $86.2bn in the first quarter of 2019, according to the Ministry of Finance.
More than 25 percent of Lebanese live in poverty, the World Bank said.