Lebanon protesters angered by PM pick

Mohammed Safadi

BEIRUT — Lebanese protesters who have been demanding radical reform reacted with anger Friday to the reported designation of a new prime minister they regard as emblematic of a failed political system.

According to senior officials speaking on condition of anonymity and Lebanese press reports, key political players agreed that Mohammed Safadi should be tasked with forming the next government.

Outgoing Prime Minister Saad Al-Hariri resigned on Oct. 29, nearly two weeks into the unprecedented nationwide protests demanding the wholesale removal of a ruling elite seen as corrupt and incompetent.

President Michel Aoun has said he will support the formation of a government including technocrats but he has not yet announced consultations over a new line-up and there was no official confirmation that Safadi had been designated.

Demonstrators in his hometown of Tripoli wasted no time in rejecting Safadi, however, and gathered in front of one of his properties to protest against a reported nomination they regard as a provocation.

"Choosing Mohammed Safadi for prime minister proves that the politicians who rule us are in a deep coma, as if they were on another planet," said Jamal Badawi, 60.

Another protester said that as a business tycoon and former minister, Safadi was an embodiment of the kind of political class the protest movement wants to remove.

"He's an integral part of this leadership's fabric," said Samer Anous, a university professor. "Safadi does not meet the aspirations of the popular uprising in Lebanon."

A protest was planned in the afternoon at Zaytuna Bay, a luxury marina in central Beirut which is fun by a company that Safadi chairs and which many say encroaches on public land.

Several dozen private hospitals across the country closed their doors to patients — except for emergencies — to protest shortages of essential goods following delays in payments by the state.

Last week the head of the syndicate of private hospitals, Suleiman Haroun, said that current medical "stocks in the country will not last more than a month".

A lack of access to the US currency meant the situation could deteriorate fast, he warned.

Banks, which have restricted access to dollars since the start of the protests, remained closed after employees went on strike over alleged mistreatment by customers, while many school and university classes were disrupted again.

For two decades the Lebanese pound has been pegged to the greenback at around 1,500 to the dollar, with both currencies used interchangeably in daily life.

The army meanwhile said it had arrested 20 demonstrators on Friday after soldiers were targeted as they attempted to reopen roads closed by protesters.

Nine were later released, seven were held for questioning and four were transferred to the military police, the army said without giving further details. — AFP