US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Tuesday urged Lebanon’s political leaders to form a new government quickly, following the resignation of Prime Minister Saad Hariri in the wake of anti-government protests.
“In light of Prime Minister Hariri’s resignation, the United States calls on Lebanon’s political leaders to urgently facilitate the formation of a new government that can build a stable, prosperous, and secure Lebanon that is responsive to the needs of its citizens,” Pompeo said in a statement.
“The peaceful demonstrations and expressions of national unity over the last 13 days have sent a clear message. The Lebanese people want an efficient and effective government, economic reform, and an end to endemic corruption. Any violence or provocative actions must stop, and we call upon Lebanon’s army and security services to continue to ensure the rights and safety of the protesters,” he added.
The protests in Lebanon were initially started in response to what has become known as the “WhatsApp Tax”, which would have seen a 20-cent daily fee being charged for messaging app users. The tax was later scrapped but the protests have continued and have morphed into a cross-sectarian street mobilization against a political system seen as corrupt and broken.
Growth in Lebanon has plummeted in the wake of repeated political deadlocks in recent years, compounded by the impact of eight years of war in neighboring Syria.
The Syrian civil war has spilled over into Lebanon mainly due to Hezbollah’s involvement in the fighting. Hezbollah's strongholds have come under repeated bomb attacks over its involvement in the Syrian conflict.
Politically, a new government headed by Hariri was formed in February following a nine-month deadlock.
Hariri last week presented a package of reforms, including cutting ministerial salaries, but the rallies continued, crippling Beirut and other major cities.
Also last week, Lebanese President Michel Aoun offered to meet with the protesters, who immediately rejected his offer.