Lebanon's top politicians made their first joint appearance Friday since massive anti-government protests erupted last month, attending a military parade for the country's 76th Independence Day.
This year's parade couldn't be held in its traditional location in central Beirut because a protest camp still occupies the area. A parallel civilian celebration, organized by the protesters, is planned for later in the day.
The limited Independence Day display reflects the nation's somber mood. Lebanon faces its most serious political and economic crises in years, as anti-government protests have gripped the country since mid-October.
A deadlock among the top leaders has failed to produce a government, three weeks after Prime Minister Saad Hariri resigned. Most of those leaders have refused to answer the protesters' demand for forming a government of experts, outside of the traditional sectarian-based power sharing agreement.
Hariri maintained a stern expression during the military parade, while President Michel Aoun and Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri exchanged smiles. The leaders exchanged a few words during the 30-minute parade of marching soldiers. There was no display of tanks or helicopters and no foreign dignitaries were in attendance.
Berri and Aoun immediately left after the parade ended, while Hariri milled around for a little longer exchanging words with the commander of the Lebanese Armed Forces.
A day earlier, Aoun had said a consensus on forming a government remained far off because of ``contradictions that control Lebanese politics.'' He didn't elaborate. He also told protesters ``only dialogue is the right path to resolve crises.``
In an ominous sign, unknown vandals set fire to a large cardboard fist in Beirut's protest camp, which had become a symbol of the uprising. The first had been pained with the word ``Revolution.''
Videos and photos circulating on social media showed the fist catching fire at dawn Friday. Protesters we were camped out in the square quickly tried to put out the blaze. A single protester defiantly raised his fist in the air beside the charred effigy. Local media said the protesters are preparing a new effigy to be installed during the Independence Day parade they're organizing.
Nationwide demonstrations began on Oct. 17 against new taxes on WhatsApp calls amid a plunging economy. The protesters now are calling for the downfall of the political elite who have run the country since the 1975-90 civil war.