President Michel Aoun cautions against bids to destabilise "security and the street" after angry protests over the Arab country's economic crisis.

Lebanon's President Michel Aoun delivers a speech at the presidential palace in Baabda, Lebanon, June 25, 2020.
Lebanon's President Michel Aoun delivers a speech at the presidential palace in Baabda, Lebanon, June 25, 2020. (Reuters)

Lebanon's President Michel Aoun has warned of an "atmosphere of civil war" during the recent unrest in his country and what he described as attempts to stir up sectarian tensions as a financial crisis sweeps the country.

"Civil peace is a red line, and ... it is everyone's responsibility," Aoun said at the presidential palace in Baabda on Thursday.

Aoun, a Maronite Christian, was speaking at a meeting that he said was called to protect civil peace but which was boycotted by opponents including Sunni Muslim leader Saad al Hariri and other ex-prime ministers who said it a waste of time.

Aoun's comments referred partly to confrontations in Beirut earlier this month that opened old sectarian faultlines between Shia Muslims and Christians and between Shia and Sunnis.

"We touched the atmosphere of civil war in a worrying way. Movements replete with sectarian tensions were launched in a suspicious manner," Aoun said.

Lebanon's sectarian power-sharing system requires the president to be a Maronite, the prime minister to be a Sunni, and the parliament speaker to be a Shia.

READ MORE: Lebanon to pump dollars to strengthen pound after violent protests

Former PMs boycott meet 

Former prime ministers Hariri, Najib Mikati, and Tammam Salam said the real threat to stability may come from the deteriorating economic and financial situation, and "this cannot be solved by large meetings that do not have a clear agenda".

The crisis is seen as the biggest threat to Lebanon's stability since the 1975-90 civil war. 

A 75 percent decline in the Lebanese pound since October has been reflected in soaring prices and savers have been frozen out of their deposits.

Lebanon has entered talks with the International Monetary Fund, hoping to secure billions of dollars in aid to boost its tanking economy.

"No rescue is possible if some continue to tamper with security and the street, foment sectarian feelings," and hamper progress, Aoun said.

Currency crisis 

Many in recent days have criticised Aoun and the government's handling of the crisis, as the Lebanese currency slid to a record low of 6,000 pounds to the dollar on the black market, compared to the official peg of 1,507.

Prime Minister Hassan Diab, appointed in January with backing from Aoun, the powerful Iranian-backed Shia group Hezbollah and Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, said the exchange rate was the only concern for Lebanese.

"Lebanese want the central bank to control the dollar exchange rate vis-a-vis the Lebanese pound and to preserve the value of their salaries and savings," he told the meeting.

"They don't care what we say. They just care what we will do."

Source: Reuters