Lebanon anti-govt protesters return to streets after big pro-Aoun rally

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Lebanese protesters demanding the overthrow of their country's elite poured back onto the streets on Sunday in the largest numbers since the government was toppled and hours after opposing supporters of President Michel Aoun staged a big rally.

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Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri resigned on Tuesday following unprecedented nationwide protests, deepening a political crisis and complicating efforts to enact badly needed economic reforms in Lebanon.

On Sunday evening anti-government protesters flooded streets in Beirut and north and south of the capital, rejecting Aoun's attempt to position himself as the guarantor of the protest movement and its anti-corruption drive.

"All of them means all of them," protesters chanted in central Beirut, a reference to the wholesale removal of an elite they accuse of pillaging the state and steering it into crisis.

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Earlier in the day, thousands of Aoun supporters had attended a rally just outside Beirut, some waving his Free
Patriotic Movement party's orange flags, engulfing a main road leading to the presidential palace.

It was the biggest counter punch to the broader wave of demonstrations that have gripped Lebanon since Oct. 17 and which have included Aoun's removal among a set of sweeping demands.

In a televised speech, Aoun, who must now hold consultations with members of parliament to designate a new premier, called for protesters to unify behind efforts to stamp out corruption, which he described as having become "nested" in the state.

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He said a three-point plan had been drawn up around tackling corruption, revitalising the economy and building a civil state.

George Barbar, who wore a shirt emblazoned with Aoun's face, said he had driven from northern Lebanon to show support. "If people don't join hands with the president, there will be no Lebanon."

Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil, Aoun's son-in-law and an object of ridicule by anti-government protesters, warned the pro-Aoun rally of "difficult days ahead" and said the country had been "racing against time to prevent a collapse."

The anti-government protests had largely subsided after Hariri resigned, with smaller groups remaining on the streets and pushing for core demands like the rapid formation of a government led by technocrats to carry out the badly needed economic reforms.

"All that we have gotten so far is the government's resignation. We still have a long way to go," said Charbel
al-Zaani, an engineer.

"If the new government that is formed isn't one that the people want, the revolution will return even bigger," said
Zaani.

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