The unrest sweeping the region reached new corners of the Arab world on Sunday, as hundreds rallied in Lebanon against the sectarian structure of their government and Omanis hit the streets to challenge their sultan’s four-decade rule.
At least two people were killed in the Omani town of Sohar, the first casualties in two days of protests in the strategic Persian Gulf country.
In Tunisia, where the ouster of president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali sparked much of the region’s subsequent unrest, the longtime prime minister gave in to protesters’ demands and stepped down after a bloody weekend that left three dead. Demonstrations also continued on Sunday in Bahrain, Yemen and Iraq.
About 500 Lebanese waving flags and chanting for national unity gathered in Beirut to protest against the sectarian makeup of the country’s government.
According to Lebanon’s power-sharing system, the president must be a Maronite Christian, the prime minister a Sunni Muslim and the parliament speaker a Shi’ite Muslim. Each faith makes up about a third of Lebanon’s population of 4 million.
“The revolution is everywhere...Lebanon, it’s your turn,” chanted demonstrators, most of them young people, AFP reported. They braved torrential rain and marched on the main courthouse chanting, “The people want to oust the regime,” an echo of the battle cry that toppled veteran leaders in Tunisia and Egypt. Others shouted, “Come on Lebanese, rise up against confessionalism!” and “We want a secular state!”
Police and soldiers guarded the building and some of the troops smiled as the protesters arrived while others took pictures of the demonstrators. More than 2,600 Facebook users had signed up to participate in the rally, but the wet weather seemed to have dissuaded a significant portion.
In Oman, security forces fired tear gas and rubber bullets at protesters demanding political reforms, killing at least one person, police said.
The clashes mark a significant escalation in two days of protests in Oman.
Wary of the unrest rippling across the region, Oman’s ruler, Sultan Qaboos bin Said, replaced six cabinet members on Saturday, in a bid to defuse tensions in the country. But Sunday’s violence indicated that the government shake-up failed to quell the unrest in the country where the sultan retains tight control.
In Tunisia, at least five people have died in recent days in a groundswell of new unrest.
Tunisia’s embattled prime minister said on Sunday that he would resign, bowing to a key demand of protesters after at least five people died in new unrest.
Mohamed Ghannouchi, 69, has been a major irritant to Tunisians behind the “Jasmine Revolution” that toppled autocratic president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali last month and sparked the wave of upheaval in the Arab world.
“This [resignation] is not a flight from my responsibilities, but to open the way for another prime minister who – I hope – will have more margin for action than I have had, to give hope to the Tunisian people,” Ghannouchi said. He didn’t say when the resignation would take effect.
Even though Ben Ali fled to Saudi Arabia on January 14, Ghannouchi – who served for 11 years as his prime minister – had promised to stay on to guide the country until elections expected no later than mid-July.
Ghannouchi’s announcement came against the backdrop of renewed street protests like those that brought Ben Ali down.
On Sunday, officials said that at least five people have died during violent street protests since Friday.
“I am not ready to be the man of repression, and I will never be,” Ghannouchi said, warning that unspecified forces appeared to be swelling to try to quash the move toward democracy.
In Bahrain, thousands streamed through the capital’s embassy area and other sites, chanting against the country’s king and rejecting his appeals for talks to end the tiny Gulf nation’s nearly two-week-old crisis.
At least three processions paralyzed parts of the capital, Manama, and appeared to reflect a growing defiance of calls by Bahrain’s rulers to hold talks to ease the increasingly bitter showdown in the nation. “No dialogue until the regime is gone,” marchers chanted as they moved through the highly protected zone of embassies and diplomatic compounds. No violence was reported.
Other marchers shouted slogans to oust Bahrain’s King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa and plastered fences with flyers denouncing security forces for attacks that have killed seven people since the first protests on February 14.
And in Yemen, opposition parties said they are joining young protesters
in their push to bring down the country’s beleaguered president.
The announcement marked the second major setback in two days for
president Ali Abdullah Saleh, a key US ally in the fight against
al-Qaida. On Saturday, two powerful chiefs from his own tribe abandoned
him, and hundreds of thousands called for his ouster in the largest
In recent weeks, Yemen has seen daily protests. The mainstream
opposition parties had been reluctant to join, preferring a wait-and-see
approach. However, on Sunday they said they would hold rallies on
Tuesday to show solidarity with the protesters.
“We call on all the citizens to come out Tuesday and condemn the regime
for its crimes,” said the Joint Gathering, an umbrella organization for
seven opposition parties, including socialist, moderate Islamic and