Michel Aoun addressed the nation on Thursday in his first comments since anti-corruption protests erupted in Lebanon eight days ago.
Lebanon’s president Michel Aoun broke his silence on Thursday in a nationwide address as mass protests over corruption and economic mismanagement entered their second week.
Aoun, in an address to the nation, pledged to exert every effort to implement radical reform but also said that change can only come from within state institutions.
The comments were his first since anti-corruption protests erupted around the country a week ago.
“My call to demonstrators: I am ready to meet your representatives that carry your concerns to listen to your specific demands. You will hear from us about our fears over financial collapse,” said Aoun.
He told tens of thousands of protesters that an economic reform package put forth by the country’s prime minister will be the “first step” toward saving Lebanon from economic collapse.
Positioning himself as in solidarity with protest grievances, he said corruption had “eaten us to the bone.”
“Your shouts will not be wasted,” he said, adding that there was “a need to review the current government”.
The Lebanese president also said he would back new laws aimed at fighting corruption and would lift bank secrecy and scrap immunity from presidents, ministers and parliamentarians.
“We will discuss what we can do together to achieve your objectives without causing collapse and chaos and open a constructive dialogue that can lead to a constructive result and define options that will lead to the best results,” he said.
“Dialogue is always the best for salvation. I am waiting for you.”
Sparked on 17 October by a proposed tax on calls made through messaging apps, the protests have morphed into a cross-sectarian street mobilisation against a political system seen as corrupt and broken.
On Thursday morning demonstrators set up roadblocks around the capital, AFP correspondents and Lebanese media reported.
A dozen young protesters had blocked one major east-west artery, pitching tents in the middle of the road.
Before Aoun’s speech, dozens of young protesters marched in the direction of the capital’s Martyrs’ Square chanting: “Revolution, revolution.”
Protesters are asking for a new political system – which they say has been dominated by the same families for decades – and an end to corruption, as well as voicing more personal political grievances.
Many expressed disappointment following Aoun’s speech, with social media users pointing out that the video address looked pre-recorded and edited.
It was met with derision at demonstrations in Beirut and other cities.
Dozens of protesters listening to the speech on loudspeakers outside parliament booed it and resumed their calls for fundamental reform, an AFP correspondent reported.
Among them, Rabah Shahrour said he was fed up with hearing the same speeches for years.
“We were looking for a little hope from him,” he said of the president’s speech.
“But sadly the president today spoke in generalities. We’ve being hearing these generalities for three years, and they haven’t led to anything.”