A rally of support for Lebanon’s President Michel Aoun swarmed the country’s presidential palace on Sunday, a rebuke to broader protests that have demanded the wholesale ouster of the country’s elite and which have toppled the government.
Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri resigned on Tuesday following unprecedented nationwide protests, deepening a political crisis and complicating efforts to enact badly needed economic reforms.
A convoy of cars, some waving Aoun’s orange Free Patriotic Movement party flags and his portrait snaked across a main highway on Sunday while a sea of protesters marched to Baabda palace.
They were joined by Lebanese Foreign Minister Gibran Bassil, Aoun’s son-in-law and an object of ridicule by anti-government protesters, who addressed supporters at the rally and called on them to refrain from accusing everyone of corruption, Lebanese news outlets reported.
Some of the protesters demands are “destructive to the economy” and “uncompromising,” Bassil said, adding that “the slogan ‘everyone means everyone’ should be used to hold officials accountable and not for injustice.”
“Be careful, we have long and difficult days ahead of us. We were racing against time to prevent a collapse but the corruption, squandering (of resources) and public debt beat us,” he said.
Though no immediate estimate of the rally’s size was available, many thousands spread across a roadway leading to the palace.
It was the biggest counter protest to the wave of demonstrations that have gripped Lebanon since Oct. 17 and which have included Aoun’s removal among a set of sweeping demands.
“We’re here to say to Aoun that we love you and renew our trust in you,” said Hiyam Khairat at the rally.
In a televised speech, Aoun, who must now hold consultations with members of parliament to designate a new premier, said a three-point plan had been drawn up around tackling corruption, restoring the economy, and building a civil state.
“These three points are not easily achieved, we need your efforts, and we need a square filled both by you and the (anti-government) protesters to defend your rights.
“Many are trying to be obstructive. This is why we need to make a huge effort,” said Aoun.
He described corruption, a primary protestor grievance, as having become “nested” in the state.
Wearing a shirt emblazoned with Aoun’s face, George Barbar said he had driven from northern Lebanon to show his support: “If people don’t join hands with the president, there will be no Lebanon,” said Barbar.