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Lebanon's Prime Minister Hariri Resigns After Weeks Of Protests

Updated at 1:10 p.m. ET

Lebanon's Prime Minister Saad Hariri is submitting his resignation, after nearly two weeks of anti-government protests brought hundreds of thousands of Lebanese to the streets.

In a televised address, Hariri said Tuesday that he has reached a "dead end" amid the widespread demonstrations that had paralyzed the country.

"For 13 days the Lebanese people have waited for a decision for a political solution that stops the deterioration [of the economy]," Hariri said, according to Reuters. "And I have tried, during this period, to find a way out, through which to listen to the voice of the people."

"It is time for us to have a big shock to face the crisis," he said. "To all partners in political life, our responsibility today is how we protect Lebanon and revive its economy."

Hariri's resignation would effectively force Lebanon to form a new government, if President Michel Aoun accepts the resignation.

Lebanese anti-government protesters celebrate Hariri's resignation in Beirut on Tuesday.
Patrick Baz / AFP via Getty Images
AFP via Getty Images
Lebanese anti-government protesters celebrate Hariri's resignation in Beirut on Tuesday.

Lebanon's demonstrations began in reaction to the government's tax proposals, including one on calls over WhatsApp, before growing into a show of widespread dissatisfaction with the country's political system. Banks and government institutions were closed amid the turmoil.

The government has long divided power along religious and sectarian lines, with a Maronite Christian president, a Sunni Muslim prime minister, and a Shia Muslim speaker of parliament. Hezbollah, a Shia group that is a party in the parliament and an armed militia, is a major player.

Protesters are calling for a new non-sectarian system, with "All Means All" a key slogan of the movement.

Hariri's resignation threatens to destabilize a nation that has been relatively peaceful in recent years. The United States, Iran and Saudi Arabia all have their own interests in the country and tend to meddle in its affairs. Hezbollah and Israel still occasionally exchange fire.

Unrest in Beirut and across the country has paralleled large public demonstrations in Chile, Iraq and elsewhere, but the Lebanon's protests have often been notable for their decidedly festive atmosphere.

The protests are the largest demonstrations in the country since 2005, when Prime Minister Rafik Hariri – Saad's father — was assassinated in a car bombing in Beirut.

Hariri has announced his resignation before. Saying he feared he was being targeted in an assassination plot, he announced his resignation in November 2017. But he then un-resigned a few weeks later, in a strange episode in which it appeared that perhaps Saudi Arabia had forced his resignation announcement.

On Tuesday, protesters cheered the news of Hariri's plans to resign. But with Lebanon's future now unclear, some also described a sense of dread.

Shortly before Hariri's speech, Hezbollah supporters stormed into a protest camp in central Beirut, setting tents ablaze and sending the anti-government protesters fleeing, according to media reports. Another Shia party, Amal, was also accused of attacking protesters.

NPR International Correspondent Daniel Estrin in Beirut contributed to this report.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Laurel Wamsley is a reporter for NPR's News Desk. She reports breaking news for NPR's digital coverage, newscasts, and news magazines, as well as occasional features. She was also the lead reporter for NPR's coverage of the 2019 Women's World Cup in France.