Lebanon PM Hariri gives government three days to support key reforms
Beirut - The protests are the largest Lebanon has seen since 2015.
Lebanon's prime minister gave his political adversaries a 72-hour ultimatum to agree on "convincing" serious reforms amid escalating nationwide protests over the country's worsening economic crisis.
In an address to the nation and with hundreds of rowdy protesters camped outside his office, Saad Hariri blamed political partners in his national unity government, which includes the Iran-backed Hezbollah group and rival political parties, for blocking his reform efforts at every turn.
Thousands of protesters have been rallying across the country since Thursday, raging against the country's political leaders whom they blame for decades of corruption and mismanagement that have led to the current crisis.
The protests are the largest Lebanon has seen since 2015 and could further destabilise a country whose economy is already on the verge of collapse and has one of the highest debt loads in the world.
Many said they would remain on the streets until his government resigned.
Hariri said he understood the people's anger at his government's performance and said "we are running out of time".
He said he was giving himself a very short time to come up with solutions and called on his rivals to make "clear, decisive and final" decisions regarding his proposed structural reforms to fix the ailing economy.
Hariri appeared to suggest he would resign if that did not happen but stopped short of saying it.
"There are those who placed obstacles in front of me since the government was formed, and in the face of all the efforts that I have proposed for reform," Hariri said, without naming names.
"Whatever the solution, we no longer have time and I am personally giving myself only a little time. Either our partners in government and in the nation give a frank response to the solution, or I will have another say," said Hariri.
It was not immediately clear whether his short speech would help soothe the anger in the streets. Protesters outside the government house in central Beirut remained in place, chanting for the downfall of the government. Reports suggested some planned to march on the presidential palace.
Schools, banks and businesses shut down as the protests escalated and widened in scope to reach almost every city and province. Hundreds of people burned tires on highways and intersections in suburbs of the capital, Beirut, and in northern and southern cities, sending up clouds of black smoke in scattered protests.
The road to Beirut's international airport was blocked by protesters, stranding passengers who in some cases were seen dragging suitcases on foot to reach the airport. Major arteries including the Salim Salam tunnel that connects central Beirut with the airport were blocked with sand dunes.
In the northern city of Tripoli, bodyguards for a former member of parliament opened fire at protesters who closed the road for his convoy wounding three of them, witnesses said.
The tension has been building for months, as the government searched for new ways to levy taxes to manage the country's economic crisis and soaring debt. The trigger, in the end, was the news on Thursday that the government was planning, among other measures, to impose a tax on WhatsApp calls - a decision it later withdrew as people began taking to the streets.