BEIRUT: Supporters of the Free Patriotic Movement and President Michel Aoun gathered Sunday near Baabda Palace, in a demonstration to express support for the president and FPM leader Gebran Bassil.
Thousands of supporters, holding Lebanese and FPM flags and wearing orange clothes and FPM accessories, took cars and buses from across Lebanon to the gathering point at a road leading to Baabda Palace.
The demonstrators were joined by Bassil, who is also caretaker foreign minister, FPM caretaker ministers Elias Bou Saab, Nada Boustani, Ghassan Atallah, and a number of lawmakers from the party's Strong Lebanon bloc.
Bassil was escorted by members of the Presidential Guard as he moved through the crowd.
"We have warned our partners that we will get to this stage ... and we are here to tell [the people who protested] that we are with them and let’s continue together," Bassil told the crowd.
In his second public appearance since the uprising began on Oct. 17, Bassil criticized protesters blocking roads, saying, “We should block roads on MPs who refuse corruption-combating laws, politicians who escape accountability and the judge who does not implement the law.”
He also called for lifting banking secrecy on officials’ accounts and holding them accountable, as well as the return of looted public funds.
Following Bassil's speech, Aoun appeared on screens from the presidential palace for a surprise live address.
During the nationwide uprising, hundreds of thousands took to the streets against Lebanon's ruling class and rampant corruption in the state. Among the protesters' demands were the resignation of government and the formation of a technocratic one, early parliamentary elections and the election of a new president, which would put an early end to Aoun’s three-year-old term.
Saad Hariri resigned as prime minister on Oct. 29, bringing down the government. Protesters have since demanded that Aoun hold binding parliamentary consultations, which are necessary to designate a new prime minister, and form a technocratic government.
Many protesters have targeted Bassil with chants often accompanied by insults. They have also accused him of corruption.
On Sunday, FPM supporters held pictures of Bassil and his mother – who was also the target of insults – with the caption “Gebran Bassil, minhebbo [we love him].”
“These are not rebels. True rebels listen to the president,” one protester said.
“Aoun is the true leader of the revolution,” MP Salim Aoun said.
Aoun's daughter, Chantal Aoun Bassil, who is also Bassil's wife, said the FPM was calling for a vote on bills in Parliament, such as those to return squandered public funds and lift banking secrecy from officials "to see who is truly obstructing [such reforms]. ... We have the biggest parliamentary bloc but we are not the majority,” she added.
The FPM’s Strong Lebanon parliamentary bloc had 29 lawmakers out of Parliament’s 128, prior to the beginning of the uprising. But MP Chamel Roukoz, who is also Aoun’s son-in-law, and MP Neemat Frem have left the bloc since.
The FPM was part of the now-defunct March 8 coalition, which today would include the FPM, Hezbollah, the Amal Movement, the Marada Movement, the Consultative Gathering and the Syrian Social Nationalist Party, comprising a total of 67 MPs – a majority in Parliament.
A similar demonstration of solidarity was held at Baabda Saturday night, attended by Bou Saab, Atallah and Boustani, as well as Strong Lebanon lawmakers.
A video circulating online showed Atallah, who is the minister for the displaced, singing “Hela hela, hela hela ho, Gebran Bassil, minhebbo [we love him].” The same chant – with a different ending – has been enthusiastically used by protesters to insult Bassil.