Protesters Launch 'Week of Wrath', Block Roads across Lebanon

W300

Lebanese protesters resumed blocking major highways on Tuesday in what they said would be a "week of wrath" demanding an end to a nearly three-month political vacuum.

Samer al-Khoury, a 29-year-old protester, said the protesters were giving the politicians 48 hours to form a new government.

"We need solutions," he said. "The street is angry because some people are more poor than others; some people are dying in hospitals; some people don't have food on their table."

Rabih al-Zein, an activist protesting in Jal el-Dib, north of Beirut, said the rallies are a reminder to the rulers that the reasons for their protests are still here. "Today we add the students to the revolution -- those who will handle the country when the current rulers will go to the dustbin of history," he said.

School and university students took part in some of the protests and hundreds marched down main highways, raising Lebanese flags and blasting rallying songs through loudspeakers.

In Beirut's Hamra area, dozens rallied outside the Central Bank and blocked the vital Hamra Street, chanting against the governor and his financial policies. Security forces separated the protesters from the bank's entrance.

In the northern city of Tripoli and in Akkar province, protesters sat in the streets and blocked several roads with bricks or burning tires. In Sidon, thousands of protesters rallied in a central square of the southern city. In the eastern city of Zahle, hundreds rallied by nightfall against the current political class.

By the afternoon, hundreds of protesters in Beirut marched to the house of the recently designated prime minister.

Protesters meanwhile blocked vital highways in Jal el-Dib, Zouk, Ghazir, Beirut, Khalde, Jbeil, Naameh and Chekka.

The Jbeil highway was later partially reopened to allow students leaving schools to reach their homes.

Although protests had declined in size in recent weeks, demonstrations have been ongoing since October, increasingly targeting banks and state institutions blamed for driving the country towards collapse.

The movement has been fueled by a crippling economic crisis, the worst since Lebanon's 1975-1990 civil war.

The unprecedented cross-sectarian protests led to the government stepping down in late October, but no new one has yet been formed as political parties argue over its composition.

As a liquidity crisis grows and the cost of living rises, protesters have returned to the streets to urge politicians to speed up the process.

On Tuesday morning, dozens of protesters blocked key highways in Beirut with overturned rubbish bins and burning tires, an AFP correspondent reported.

Laila Youssef, 47, said she was taking part to call on politicians to wake up.

"We've gone back to closing down roads because we can't stand it anymore," the mother of three told AFP.

"What we earn today is not enough to buy the basics for home," she said.

Many Lebanese have lost their jobs or seen their salaries reduced by half in recent months.

Even as banks cap withdrawals, the value of the Lebanese pound to the U.S. dollar has fallen by almost 40 percent on the parallel exchange market.

A protester in Tripoli said the situation had become "unbearable."

"Prices are exorbitant, yet still they're taking their sweet time" to form a new government, he told LBCI television.

In December, a new premier was tasked with forming a government but the country's rival political parties have failed to agree on names put forward for the various ministries.

The protesters are demanding a new government made up solely of independent technocrats, but analysts warn this may be a tall order in a country ruled by a sectarian power-sharing system since the end of the civil war.