Tens of thousands of Lebanese protesters have formed a human chain running north to south across the entire country to symbolise national unity amid a civil disobedience campaign against the government.
Demonstrators on Sunday joined hands from Tripoli to Tyre, a 170-kilometre (105-mile) chain running through the main protest hub in the capital, Beirut, as part of an unprecedented cross-sectarian mobilisation.
Reporting from Beirut, Al Jazeera’s Stefanie Dekker said the protesters were sending “a strong message to try and keep the pressure on the government” on the eleventh day of anti-government protests.
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Tension has mounted in recent days between security forces and protesters, who are blocking roads and bringing the country to a standstill to press their demands for a complete overhaul of the political system.
Lebanon’s reviled political elite has been defending a belated package of economic reforms and appeared willing to reshuffle the government, but protesters who have stayed in the streets since October 17 want more.
On foot, by bicycle and on motorbikes, demonstrators and volunteers fanned out along the main north-south highway.
“All the Lebanese people are together on this day and you’re going to see how united we are for this cause,” a protester, who was part of the chain, told Al Jazeera.
“We want all of them to resign and end the corruption in this country. It’s enough,” said another demonstrator.
‘Defend my Lebanon’
The leaderless protest movement, driven mostly by a young generation of men and women born after the 1975-1990 civil war, has even been described by some as the birth of a Lebanese civic identity.
“The idea behind this human chain is to show an image of a Lebanon which, from north to south, rejects any sectarian affiliation,” Julie Tegho Bou Nassif, one of the organisers, told bioreports news agency.
“There is no political demand today, we only want to send a message by simply holding hands under the Lebanese flag,” the 31-year-old history professor added.
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The army has sought to reopen main roads across the country, where schools and banks have been closed for more than a week.
In one of the most serious incidents, the army opened fire on Friday to confront a group of protesters blocking a road in Tripoli, wounding at least six people.
But the unprecedented protest movement has been relatively incident-free, despite tensions with the armed forces and attempts by party loyalists to stage counter-demonstrations.
“I’m here to defend my Lebanon from everything,” one protester told Al Jazeera.
Protesters have been demanding the removal of the entire ruling class. Many of the political heavyweights are former militia leaders seen as representing little beyond their own sectarian or geographical community.
The protesters see them as corrupt and incompetent and have so far dismissed measures proposed by the political leadership to quell the protests.
They have accused the political elite of desperately attempting to save their jobs and have stuck to their demands for deep, systemic change.