Speaking at a televised conference, Hariri also said financial advisers will study the privatization of telecommunications, a law will be drafted to return stolen government funds and an anti-corruption committee will be set up.
He also announced that the government has approved a 2020 budget with a deficit of 0.6 percent and that there will be no new taxes.
Confidence in Lebanon’s political class is at a grievously low point, and the deadline Hariri set Friday brought even more people to the streets, with hundreds of thousands demonstrating over the weekend, calling on the government to resign.
The government, which is struggling with a national debt that is proportionally the third-largest in the world, announced a proposal Thursday to hike the value-added tax and introduce a levy on Internet calls via apps such as WhatsApp.
The Lebanese — already fed up with living in a country that lacks clean water and air, has disintegrating infrastructure and is burdened by graft — revolted.
“Those expressing their anger and demanding their dignity and their rights on the street: These decisions we took today may not fulfill your demands,” Hariri said Monday. “But they definitely fulfill what I’ve been asking for for two years.”
He added: “These decisions were not made for trade. I mean, I’m not asking you to stop protesting or expressing your anger. That is a decision that you take, and no one can give you a deadline.
“You are the compass. You are the ones who moved the cabinet, and your movement, to be honest, is what led to the decision that you see today.”
Crowds continued to flock to the streets after the speech. The mood, unlike the anger of the first two nights of protests, was buoyant and electric with hope. Families and children gathered as people blasted music, draped themselves in the national flag and chanted profanity-laced rhymes cursing out prominent officials across all parties and religious sects.
Protesters filled every nook and cranny of downtown Beirut, as they did the streets of other big cities in this country of about 4 million people. Major highways were blocked. A general strike was called, and banks, schools and universities were closed.
“We will be rallying up here every day till the government resigns,” said Ayman, 18, who for safety reasons asked that his full name not be used. He said that the country needs a technocratic government to properly deal with the economic crisis and that it must rid itself of its sectarian-based power-sharing system.
Giselle, a 26-year-old who did not give her last name, said she does not trust Hariri’s promises, deeming them empty: “We need to replace this current government with a transitional government, to do early elections and replace this government with [one] that actually cares for its people.”
A group of young, mostly hearing-impaired men sharing a shisha explained that most of them have to leave the country for a chance at a good life, indicating with gestures and occasional words that Lebanon offers no affordable hearing aids, no job opportunities for people with special needs, no way for them to obtain a driving license.
So far, four cabinet ministers from one party have resigned, including the minister of labor and the deputy prime minister, citing people’s lack of faith in the political class. “If the government does not fall, we will keep a close watch on their work as members of the opposition,” said Elie Khoury, foreign affairs adviser to Samir Geagea, leader of the Lebanese Forces party.
“We doubt, however, that the government is going to survive this crisis,” Khoury said.
Over the weekend, as soldiers stood inches away from the protest blocking the road to parliament, many struggled to maintain a straight face. Kissing one of the demonstrators on the cheek, a soldier whispered: “Be safe. . . . Raise your voice and shout on our behalf.”