October 31, 2019 / 10:07 AM / 15 days ago

Lebanese army clears protester roadblocks, schools stay shut

BEIRUT, Oct 31 (Reuters) - Lebanese troops and riot police deployed on Thursday to reopen a major highway north of Beirut and a bridge in the capital that anti-government protesters had blocked.

Two weeks of massive demonstrations against the ruling elite largely subsided after Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri resigned on Tuesday but demonstrators demanding more resignations took to the streets again on Wednesday night and erected blockades.

“We’ve been on the streets for 14 days. The politicians have been taking this as if nothing’s happening,” said Simon Nehme, a protester at the Ring Bridge in Beirut. “They’re stalling to get us bored and tell us to leave the streets. This won’t happen.”

In a bid to restore a semblance of normality on Thursday, soldiers removed dumpsters, cars and tents blocking a highway linking the capital to the north of Lebanon.

Lebanon’s army command has said people have the right to protest but only in public squares. Soldiers fired tear gas after clashing with protesters blocking a road overnight in the Akkar region.

The education minister has called on schools and universities to reopen their doors but in the capital, as well as parts of the north and south of the country, most schools remained shut on Thursday, Reuters witnesses said.

Banks, shut for nearly two weeks, were due to resume normal operations and receive customers on Friday, the country’s banking association has said.

President Michel Aoun has formally asked the cabinet to continue in a caretaker role until a new one is formed, as required by Lebanon’s system of government.

Hariri’s feuding government had sought last week to defuse popular anger at political leaders blamed for pushing the country towards economic collapse.

The government announced a series of reform plans, but with no concrete steps, it failed to placate protesters or reassure multilateral lenders enough to release billions in badly needed aid they had pledged.

A senior official familiar with Hariri’s thinking said he was ready to return as premier of a new Lebanese government on condition it includes technocrats and can quickly implement reforms to stave off economic collapse. (Reporting by Ellen Francis and Issam Abdallah; Editing by David Clarke)

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