Protests are targeted against leaders blamed for corruption and economic collapse. (AP: Bilal Hussein)
Tens of thousands of people have formed a human chain across Lebanon in a show of national unity as part of a historic civil disobedience campaign.
- Rolling protests have called for the Government to resign
- Solidarity rallies were held overseas, including in Sydney
- Pope Francis urges “peaceful coexistence” in Lebanon
Amid a sea of Lebanese flags and music blaring from loudspeakers, people joined hands along coastal roads aiming to span 171 kilometres from the south to the north.
Protests have demanded the overthrow of political elites who have governed the country of 6 million people since the end of its 1975-1990 civil war.
“We are demanding our rights, so our country will be better and more beautiful for our kids and for us,” said Marcel Karkour, who joined the human chain with her two children.
One of the main organisers, Cyril Bassil, told the Daily Star newspaper the human chain symbolised, “the unity of Lebanon, no matter what social class or religion you come from … we are all one”.
“When we think of each other as one, that’s when we start to work together. We need to live together and respect each other,” he said.
Nationwide protests, ignited in part by a government plan to tax WhatsApp calls, have swept Lebanon at a time of deep economic crisis.
Security forces pushed and dragged away protesters who refused to move from roadblocks in central Beirut on Saturday. (AP: Hussein Malla)
People from all sects and walks of life have flooded the streets for 11 days, furious at leaders they accuse of plundering state resources for personal gain.
Julian Bourjeili, an architect who joined the chain with his fiancée, said it was a message of “love and solidarity.”
“We are showing the civilised and peaceful image of this movement, and God willing, this chain will reach its maximum number of people,” he said.
The size and geographic reach of the protests have been extraordinary in a country where political movements have long been divided along sectarian lines.
Efforts by the army to persuade protesters to unblock the roads have failed.
“What’s happening is proof of how peacefully we are protesting, when you see people all holding hands and having one heart,” said Nadine Labaki, an Oscar-nominated Lebanese filmmaker taking part in the chain in Beirut.
“Today is a fateful day.”
Lebanese expats held solidarity rallies across the globe in cities such as Sydney, Paris and Boston.
At the Vatican, Pope Francis offered his prayers on Sunday for young protesters in Lebanon and asked for the international community’s support to keep the country a place of “peaceful coexistence”.
There was no sign of moves towards a compromise between the Government and protesters, whose demands include its resignation.
Banks, schools and many businesses have shut their doors due to safety concerns.
The Government is grappling with one of the world’s heaviest public debt burdens at 150 per cent of GDP.
It has declared an economic emergency to try to get its finances under control.
Lebanon’s Maronite Patriarch Bechara Boutros Al-Rai said the Government could not ignore the people’s “cry” for a small, politically neutral cabinet and should comply with their demands before it is too late, the National News Agency reported.