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Lebanon

France warns of 'even more serious crisis' in Lebanon after Hariri quits

Lebanon's Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri leaves after a news conference in Beirut, Lebanon October 29, 2019
Lebanon's Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri leaves after a news conference in Beirut, Lebanon October 29, 2019 REUTERS/Mohamed Azakir

Lebanon's Prime Minister Saad Hariri has submitted his resignation to the country's president, bowing to nearly two weeks of unprecedented protests against corruption and sectarianism. France has warned his resignation could deepen Beirut's crisis.

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"Prime Minister (Saad) Hariri has just resigned, which makes the crisis even more serious," Jean-Yves Le Drian told parliament in Paris, hours after Hariri announced he was resigning.

Le Drian has urged Lebanese authorities "to do everything they can to guarantee the stability of the institutions and the unity of Lebanon."

Beirut has been roiled by protests for nearly two weeks, triggered by a government decision to tax WhatsApp calls and other third-party applications that have long afforded cash-strapped Lebanese a chance to chat for free. But later protests morphed into calls for an overhaul of the entire political system.

In a televised statement Tuesday, the embattled prime minister said he had heard "the will of many Lebanese who took to the streets to demand change" in protests he called "historic."

Hariri said he had reached a "dead-end" after the nationwide protest movement paralyzed the country. However, uncertainty remains about what comes next.

Fractious country

The 49-year-old, who sports trademark slicked-back hair and a closely cropped beard, has been a major figure in the country's deeply divided political landscape since his father, former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, was assassinated.

However, he has struggled to stamp the same authority on his fractious country.

There are fears that a power vacuum could play into the hands of Iran-backed Hezbollah. Earlier on Tuesday, supporters of the terrorist group attacked a protest camp set up by anti-government demonstrators, tearing down tents and roadblocks.

France, one of Hariri's top allies and Lebanon's key partner in a crucial $11-billion aid plan, has urged for calm.

"Lebanon needs a commitment from all political leaders to look within themselves and make sure there is a strong response to the population," French Foreign Minister Le Drian said, offering France's help.

'Not enough'

Despite the uncertainty, on the streets of Beirut, news of Hariri's resignation has been met with jubilation.

"What happened today is a big achievement for the revolution," 32-year-old Mohammad told AFP.

But many said their work was unfinished.

"This resignation is welcome but it's not enough, it's only one part of a larger list of demands," said Tima Samir, a 35-year-old mother of two.

"We want the entire system to change and we'll stay on the streets until all our demands are met."

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