BEIRUT: Hezbollah Secretary-General Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah called on party supporters to leave the streets Friday, following clashes with protesters and riot police in Downtown Beirut.
"Last Saturday I asked [Hezbollah supporters] not to protest and I am asking the Resistance [Hezbollah] to withdraw from the squares," Nasrallah said during a televised speech.
He also repeated his assertion that Hezbollah had not joined protests, because if they did, they would be "visible" and politicize the movement.
Immediately after his speech ended, dozens of Nasrallah supporters who had been chanting his name and clashing with other protesters and police in Beirut's Riad al-Solh Square fled south toward the ring road.
In the Hezbollah strongholds of Tyre and Beirut's southern suburbs, groups of Hezbollah and Amal Movement supporters took to the streets carrying their respective parties' flags.
Protests against government corruption and deteriorating living conditions have swept across Lebanon over the last nine days. Nasrallah claimed that these demonstrations have been infiltrated by foreign powers. "The data and information that we have obtained confirm that Lebanon has entered a stage of regional political targeting, and it is no longer just a popular movement," he said.
For nine days, demonstrators across the country have taken to the streets in an unprecedented uprising against the political class, calling for the overthrow of the government and early parliamentary elections.
However, Nasrallah opposed the protesters' demands for government resignation and elections, saying that a "government vacuum would lead to chaos and collapse."
Instead, the leader said he supported President Michel Aoun’s proposal to meet with to-be-nominated protest leaders to find solutions to their demands, and described the economic blueprint approved by Cabinet as a good “first step” and a positive achievement of the popular movement.
Nasrallah called on protesters Friday to organize themselves, choose leaders to represent them and agree on their demands, saying that if they want to bring down Lebanon's deeply entrenched sectarian system, "let's sit down together" to discuss it.
"Those in power are prepared to negotiate."
After a week of silence, Aoun addressed the nation Thursday, saying he was ready to hear protesters' demands in a "constructive dialogue."
However, as a spontaneous, organic protest movement, the demonstrations have not produced clear candidates to act as representatives.
Prime Minister Saad Hariri Monday announced a series of reform measures approved by Cabinet in an attempt to appease protesters. They include a 50 percent reduction to the salaries of current and former MPs, ministers and heads of state, the privatization of the telecoms sector and a law to return "stolen public money."
The premier also said that the 2020 state budget would reduce the budget deficit to 0.6 percent of GDP, which Nasrallah said was a "very important and unprecedented" achievement.
The reforms failed to convince protesters, who have since remained on the streets, in some cases camping out and blocking roads.
Nasrallah asked protesters Friday to open the roads so that people can go “to work, to school, to universities and to hospitals.”
On Wednesday and Thursday, protesters clashed with the Army in some places as they attempted to follow orders to reopen roads.
However, Nasrallah said he was against “the Army or security forces clearing any demonstration by force or opening fire on protesters,” and cited a 1993 incident when the Army shot at protesters in Beirut.