The Latest: Hezbollah chief asks supporters to exit protests

International

Anti-government protesters stand under their umbrellas wave Lebanese flags and shout slogans during a protest, in downtown Beirut, Lebanon, Thursday, Oct. 24, 2019. Lebanon’s president pleaded Thursday with tens of thousands of protesters who have blocked main roads and paralyzed the nation for days, urging them to back economic reforms proposed by the prime minister as the “first step” toward saving the country from economic collapse. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla)

BEIRUT (AP) — The Latest on anti-government protests in Lebanon (all times local):

5:35 p.m.

The leader of Lebanon’s militant Hezbollah has called on his supporters to leave anti-government protests to avoid friction and seek dialogue instead.

Hassan Nasrallah spoke Friday shortly after his supporters clashed with protesters in central Beirut, rejecting that demonstrators equate him with corrupt politicians.

Nasrallah said the protests in Lebanon are no longer spontaneous and popular but have become politicized. He said political rivals who are critical of his group’s political line are manipulating the protests. He said the protests have been exploited by international and regional powers who are also against his party. The Iranian-backed Hezbollah is facing widening U..S sanctions amid tension between Washington and Tehran.

Nasrallah said he is worried the country would return to a civil war, conjuring fear of the country’s war that lasted 15 years and ended in 1990.

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5:05 p.m.

Lebanon’s Hezbollah leader says nationwide protests against the country’s political class are being exploited by the politicians and are no longer popular or spontaneous.

Hassan Nasrallah says Friday that what started as a popular expression of anger against corruption and deepening economic crisis is being steered by some political groups who are financing it and who are as corrupt as those the protesters are against.

He says the demands are no longer those expressed by the public but are politicized, including criticizing his powerful group.

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1:05 p.m.

Hundreds of Lebanese protesters have set up tents, blocking traffic in main thoroughfares and sleeping in public squares to enforce a civil disobedience campaign and keep up the pressure on the government to step down.

Banks, universities and schools remained closed on Friday, the ninth day of nationwide protests.

Protesters briefly closed the highway linking the southern city of Sidon to Beirut, burning tires and blocking traffic. The army later removed the tires and reopened the road.

Protesters set up tents on the main highway linking eastern and western Beirut, allowing through only ambulances and army vehicles.

Despite government promises of reforms, the leaderless protesters have dug in, saying the country’s incumbent officials are corrupt and must go.

The unprecedented mass protests come amid a deepening economic crisis in Lebanon.

Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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