Lebanon interior minister calls for restraint in protests

AP , Friday 28 Aug 2015

U.N. security officers, set up more barbed wire barriers in an extra security measure around the United Nations headquarters, which is in front the Lebanese government building, where the anti-government protesters hold their daily demonstrations, in downtown Beirut, Lebanon, Friday, Aug. 28, 2015 (AP)

Security forces have orders to show restraint at a planned mass protest against Lebanon's government this weekend, but will not tolerate attempts by "thugs" to make trouble, Lebanon's interior minister said Friday.

Two rallies in the capital of Beirut last weekend drew 20,000 people, and dozens were hurt in clashes between protesters and security forces at the time.

The protests have been driven by anger over garbage piling up streets of Beirut, following the closure of a main landfill.

The government's failure to resolve the trash crisis has evolved into wider protests against a political class that has dominated Lebanon since the end of the country's civil war in 1990 and is widely seen as dysfunctional.

Interior Minister Nohad Machnouk said Friday that non-violent protests would be permitted.

"We are committed to protecting any citizen who expresses himself through peaceful means," he said.

At the same time, there is concern about "attempts by thugs to exploit the rally in order to vent political frustrations and spite," he said. He said troops would prevent any attempts to break into government buildings.

He said that troops suspected of having used excessive force last weekend will be held accountable.

"There were mistakes that happened on Saturday when I was out of the country," he said, blaming lack of coordination between the various security agencies.

Organizers have rallied support under the slogan, "You Stink" — a reference to the political establishment.

The campaigners say they are trying to end a patronage system that divvies up power to each of Lebanon's multiple communities — Shias, Sunnis, Christians, Druze and more. That system has been the center of Lebanese politics for decades and helped fuel the 15-year civil war.

Critics say politicians spend more time cultivating their sectarian fiefdoms than actually governing.

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