Tens of thousands of people have formed a human chain across Lebanon in a show of national unity as part of a historic civil disobedience campaign.
Amid a sea of Lebanese flags and music blaring from loudspeakers, people joined hands along coastal roads aiming to span 171 kilometres from the south to the north.
Nationwide protests, ignited in part by a government plan to tax WhatsApp calls, have swept Lebanon at a time of deep economic crisis.
Protesters have been demanding the overthrow of politicians who have divided up power among themselves and amassed wealth for decades but have done little to fix a crumbling economy and dilapidated infrastructure.
Lebanon’s sectarian-based political system has mostly kept the peace since the 1975-1990 civil war, but has also spawned political paralysis and endemic corruption.
“We are demanding our rights, so our country will be better and more beautiful for our kids and for us,” said Marcel Karkour, who joined the human chain with her two children.
One of the main organisers, Cyril Bassil, told the Daily Star newspaper the human chain symbolised, “the unity of Lebanon, no matter what social class or religion you come from … we are all one”.
Julian Bourjeili, an architect who joined the chain with his fiancée, said it was a message of “love and solidarity.”
“We are showing the civilised and peaceful image of this movement, and God willing, this chain will reach its maximum number of people,” he said.
The size and geographic reach of the protests have been extraordinary in a country where political movements have long been divided along sectarian lines.
Efforts by the army to persuade protesters to unblock the roads failed.
“What’s happening is proof of how peacefully we are protesting, when you see people all holding hands and having one heart,” said Nadine Labaki, an Oscar-nominated Lebanese filmmaker taking part in the chain in Beirut.
At the Vatican, Pope Francis offered his prayers on Sunday for young protesters in Lebanon and asked for the international community’s support to keep the country a place of “peaceful coexistence”.
There was no sign of moves towards a compromise between the Government and protesters, whose demands include the Government’s resignation.
Banks, schools and many businesses shut their doors due to safety concerns.
Lebanon’s Government is grappling with one of the world’s heaviest public debt burdens at 150 per cent of GDP.
It has declared an economic emergency to try to get its finances under control.
Lebanon’s Maronite Patriarch Bechara Boutros Al-Rai said the Government could not ignore the people’s “cry” for a small, politically neutral cabinet and should comply with their demands before it is too late, the National News Agency reported.