The demonstrators — who have thronged towns and cities across Lebanon — have been demanding the removal of the entire political class, accusing many across different parties of systematic corruption.
“We do not support the resignation of the government,” he said. Lebanon’s national flag, instead of his party’s colours, was seen behind him for the first time.
Nasrallah also called on his supporters to leave the streets after scuffles broke out in Beirut between them and other anti-graft protesters.
Unprecedented protests have erupted in some Hezbollah strongholds, but some of its supporters have also taken offense to slogans against their leader.
In the capital’s main square, protesters fell silent to listen to Nasrallah’s speech broadcast on loudspeakers.
As it neared its end, the police moved in to separate Hezbollah supporters from the rest of the demonstrators, an AFP correspondent said.
Before they retreated, Hezbollah backers threw rocks, plastics bottles and branches at the other demonstrators, who responded in kind chanting “Revolution”.
‘All of them’
Numbers have declined since Sunday, when hundreds of thousands took over Beirut and other cities in the largest demonstrations in years, but could grow again over the weekend.
Lebanon’s largely sectarian political parties have been wrong-footed by the cross-communal nature of the protests.
Drawing in Christians and Muslims, Shiite, Sunni and Druze, the street movement has largely been peaceful — evolving into celebrations after nightfall.
Waving Lebanese national flags rather than the partisan colours normally paraded at demonstrations, protesters have been demanding the resignation of all of Lebanon’s political leaders.
“All of them means all,” has been a popular slogan.
After initially welcoming the protests as spontaneous, Nasrallah on Friday insinuated that the protesters were being manipulated.
In attempts to calm the anger, Prime Minister Saad Hariri has pushed through a package of economic reforms, while President Michel Aoun offered Thursday to meet with representatives of the demonstrators to discuss their demands.
But those measures have been given short shrift by demonstrators, many of whom want the government to resign to pave the way for new elections.
“We want to stay on the street to realise our demands and improve the country,” one protester, who asked to be identified only by his first name Essam, told AFP.
“We want the regime to fall… The people are hungry and there is no other solution in front of us,” said Essam, a 30-year-old health administrator.
Several people were injured Friday when Hezbollah supporters launched fresh attacks on protesters at Beirut’s Riad al-Solh Square.Riot police immediately intervened and separated between the two groups, making several arrests.
LBCI television reported violent scuffles between police and the pro-Hezbollah group.
The Hezbollah supporters chanted slogans against Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea.
Media reports said the supporters had arrived together in buses and were carrying batons.
MTV meanwhile reported an assault on its crew in Riad al-Solh.
A moment of truth for Hezbollah
In an unprecedented move, the wave of protest against the Lebanese political class has spread to the Shia strongholds in the south of the country. These are dominated by Hezbollah and its ally, the Amal Party, who were considered untouchable up to this point.
Since October 17, a people’s uprising has been targeting the Lebanese government and the political class, considered corrupt and incompetent. It has not waned since and continues to sweep across the entire country. This includes southern Lebanon and Bekaa, the most important Shia electoral strongholds of Hassan Nasrallah‘s Hezbollah and the Amal movement led by the Speaker of the Parliament of Lebanon, Nabih Berri.
“It is a non-partisan socio-political movement that cuts across all social strata, regions and communities, united in the face of fears that the country will fall into the precipice because of the economic crisis,” Middle East political scientist Khattar Abou Diab told FRANCE 24. “All Lebanese are concerned, especially those living in the south of the country, which is predominantly Shia and where the most disadvantaged territories are located.”
In an inconceivable development just a few days ago, demonstrators attacked the offices of some Shia deputies, including Mohammad Raad, president of the Hezbollah parliamentary group, Hani Kobeissi and Yassine Jaber of the Amal party.
“It is too early to draw any conclusions, as the demonstrations are still ongoing, but it has to be feared that Hezbollah will do everything it can to stop, drown out or take advantage of this popular movement,” Khattar Abu Diab continued. “There have already been several attempts to do so, and even today Hezbollah sent supporters to mingle with demonstrators in the heart of Beirut to create diversions.”
On Thursday afternoon, Hezbollah supporters attacked demonstrators in central Beirut, forcing riot police to intervene to separate the two sides. Several injuries were reported during the clashes by local media.
At the start of the week, hundreds of people, flying Hezbollah and Amal flags and perched on motorcycles, tried to head towards central Beirut, where the anti-power demonstrators are based, before being stopped in time by the Lebanese army.
Fifteen demonstrators were injured on October 23 in Nabatiyah in the south, in clashes with supporters of Hezbollah and its ally Amal.
Nabatiyah, a large Shia-majority city, has become the symbol of the uprising in the south of the country, even if the number of demonstrators is lower there than in other parts of the country. Speech is also more measured there than in the capital Beirut, where criticism is more frequent against Nasrallah.
“Many Lebanese people have risen up in the south of the country, a taboo has been broken because what is today said in public has already been said in private,” confided political scientist and professor at the American University of Paris Ziad Majed to FRANCE 24. “Thus, we now express ourselves even in the South, where some thought that no one would dare to move.”
Even worse, in protest marches, especially in the large coastal city of Tyre, also in the south, the crowd have literally accused Nabih Berri, the very influential Speaker of Parliament and former warlord, of being a “thief” and of impoverishing the country by fostering patronage.
“The street has not only risen up against mismanagement or corruption, the political class has been caught up in the wear and tear of power, hence the rejection of a figure like Berri, who has presided over the Chamber of Deputies since 1992,” said Khattar Abou Diab.
Day 9 of #Lebanon protest: Pro-Hezbollah partisans attack protestors in Riad Solh Square.
— Kareem Chehayeb | كريم (@chehayebk) October 25, 2019
On Friday morning, protesters again cut some of Beirut’s main highways, including the road to the airport and the coastal road towards second city Tripoli and the north.
On the motorway north of Beirut, demonstrators had erected tents and stalls in the centre of the carriageway.
The army in a statement urged demonstrators to refrain from such measures and “respect of freedom of circulation”.
Rights group Amnesty International defend blocking roads as “legitimate”, and called on Lebanese authorities to “refrain from trying to forcefully disperse peaceful assemblies”.
On Thursday, scuffles had already broken out in central Beirut, injuring one protester.
Lebanon’s Al-Akhbar newspaper, which is close to Hezbollah, early Friday already headlined its front page “Risk of chaos”, saying the movement had pledged to work to reopen blocked roads.
Hezbollah is the only movement not to have disarmed after Lebanon’s 15-year civil war.
Lebanon endured a devastating civil war that ended in 1990 and many of its current political leaders are former commanders of wartime militias, most of them recruited on sectarian lines.
Persistent deadlock between them has stymied efforts to tackle the deteriorating economy, while the eight-year war in neighbouring Syria has compounded the crisis.
More than a quarter of Lebanon’s population lives in poverty, according to the World Bank.
(AFP) France 24/agencies