Lebanon’s President Aoun refuses to step down, blames corruption for crisis

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Lebanon’s President Michel Aoun refused to step down and said on Thursday that sectarianism and corruption had destroyed the country, in his first address to the nation since the outbreak of nationwide anti-government demonstrations last week.

“I heard many calls for the change of government; government cannot be changed overnight. It must happen through constitutional reforms,” said Aoun, who blamed corruption across all political parties and sectarianism for the “destroying” the country.

Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri said he welcomed Aoun's call for the need to review the current government through existing constitutional mechanisms in a tweet on Thursday.

Lebanese Druze leader Walid Jumblatt said on Thursday in a tweet that the best solution out of mass protests triggered by an economic crisis is to speed up a government reshuffle as proposed by Aoun.

“I have taken Lebanon to a place of safety and stability,” claimed Aoun, after saying that “sectarianism and corruption have destroyed the country.”

Aoun pointed to corruption across all the political parties as causing the crisis.

“Politicians must return embezzled funds. The corruption has no religion or sect ... Let’s expose the corrupt and leave the matter in hands of judiciary,” says Lebanese President Michel Aoun, addressing Lebanon after a week of anti-government protests.

“All political parties are responsible for protecting public funds from being stolen,” he added.

Aoun pointed to the reforms proposed by the government under Prime Minister Saad Hariri as the solution to the crisis.

“The reforms that have been passed are the first step to saving Lebanon,” he said, listing a number of reforms including a bill which would remove political immunity from parliamentarians and government officials.

Aoun linked the reforms’ success to the Lebanese people, saying “freedom of expression is a right respected and cherished by all people,” and calling on citizens to monitor the reforms to ensure their success.

The Lebanese president ended his speech by refusing to step down and instead calling for dialogue as the solution. “Let’s initiate a constructive dialogue where practical measures are taken to reach the best results. Dialogue is the best way to solution,” he stated.

“I am ready to meet your representatives ... to hear your demands.”

Crowds gathered in Jal El Deeb Square to watch the speech on a giant screen, reported Lebanon's National News Agency (NNA).

Along with all other major political parties, Aoun's Future Patriotic Movement (FPM) has been targeted by the protesters, many of whom have demanded the resignation of the entire government. Aoun's son-in-law Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil has been a particular target of protesters' chants.

Many roads and highways across the country remain blocked, including the major highways into Beirut, according to Al Arabiya's correspondent. The army is deployed across the country, including in Nabatieh in the south, where protesters came under attack last night.

In the morning, Aoun receivied the UN Secretary-General's Representative in Beirut, Jan Kubis, who briefed him on the position of the International Support Group on the current developments, according to a tweet by the official account for the Lebanese Presidency.

After Aoun, Walid Joumblatt, the leader of the Progressive Socialist Party and a former ally of Prime Minister Saad Hariri, is set to speak. Joumblatt has previously said the country needs a new, non-sectarian law, but that he is against the resignation of the government.

The only cabinet ministers that have resigned so far are four from the Lebanese Forces party.

Speaker of Parliament and head of the Shia Amal party Nabih Berri appeared to criticize the protests, saying Lebanon cannot withstand its current state of “suspension,” Lebanese Hezbollah’s al-Manar TV reported. There have been fears that Amal and Hezbollah supporters may try and attack protesters after a showdown with the Lebanese Army on Monday.

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