Lebanon trash protests trigger political squeeze

Yasser Seddiq , Sunday 23 Aug 2015

Lebanese activists hold pictures of Lebanese Cabinet ministers and various anti-government signs during a protest against the ongoing trash crisis, in downtown Beirut, Lebanon, Saturday, Aug. 22, 2015. (AP Photo)

Lebanese Internal Security Forces (ISF) clashed on Saturday with protesters who are calling for the government to step down after failing to find a solution to the piles of rubbish that have been accumulating for weeks in the streets of Beirut.

The police fired tear gas and water cannons and shot live rounds in the air in an attempt to disperse thousands of protesters.

The police reported that at least 35 people, both protesters and police, were injured in Saturday’s clashes.

However, Lebanese Red Cross spokesman George Kattaneh told the Associated Press that 55 protesters and policemen were wounded and brought to hospitals during the protests Saturday. Another 70 people were treated on the spot by paramedics.

Lebanon's Prime Minister Tammam Salam promised that those responsible for wounding civilian protesters during Saturday’s demonstrations will be held accountable for the incident.

Addressing Lebanese citizens in a televised press conference on Sunday, Salam said that he is depending on the "good people" and will not ignore their call for justice.

"We are all responsible for what happened last night, especially the excessive force used against civil society bodies," said Salam, hinting that some may have taken advantage of the situation to increase tensions, according to Lebanon's National News Agency.

"The incident will not pass without accountability on all levels. Every official will shoulder responsibility, and I will not cover for anyone. What happened last night hurt us deeply," added Salam.

The rubbish crisis has evolved, from demanding an end to the accumulation of garbage in the streets and fighting corruption in the service sector, to demands for the government to step down.

The protesters chanted the famous slogan that was used by demonstrators of the Arab Spring countries in 2011 to topple the regime "The people want the overthrow of the regime.”

The crisis began after a strike by the workers of "Sukleen" company and the closure of the main garbage landfill in Beirut last month.

In the wake of Saturday's incident, Interior and Municipalities Minister Nuhad Al-Mashnouq cut his trip abroad short and returned back to Beirut on Sunday.

Al-Mashnouq has ordered a full investigation over what happened Saturday night between the demonstrators, ISF, and other military forces in downtown Beirut.

Civil activists launched a movement that has escalated from discussing a solution to the trash crisis to the problems of corruption, unemployment, and deteriorating public services such as electricity.

‘You Stink’, a Lebanese grassroots movement, was created as a response to the government’s inability to solve the ongoing trash crisis in a sustainable way.

The organizers of ‘You Stink’ have accused Speaker Nabih Berri and Prime Minister Tammam Salam of giving the order to fire on demonstrators in Riad Solh Square and Martyr’s Square.

However, the protests aggravated the already-complicated situation, as Lebanon's parliament extended its own mandate until 2017. The government has been working as caretaker for more than one year in the midst of the year-long presidential vacuum.

Head of Change and Reform Bloc, MP Michel Aoun, warned the "governing majority" and their apparatuses from taking advantage of the "noble protest movement" for the sake of political wins, according to Lebanon's National News Agency.

Aoun promised that his political team would not be lenient in holding responsible those who used violence against the protestors and warned that he would decide the "next move."

Lebanese MP Nabil Nicolas, a member of the Change and Reform Bloc, which is headed by General Michel Aoun, has suspended his membership in the Lebanese Parliament in opposition of what he described as "repression" of protesters on the waste crisis in the country.

Head of the Democratic Gathering, Walid Jumblatt, has given his full support to Prime Minister Tammam Salam.

Jumblatt announced his backing of the demands made by the ‘You Stink’ movement, but warned them against being exploited by certain political powers that "obstructed the presidential elections and then the parliament and now the cabinet,” adding that “such exploitation will harm internal stability as well as the rightful demands of the people."

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