Lebanon cabinet approves plan to end trash crisis

AFP , Wednesday 9 Sep 2015

Lebanon's Prime Minister Tammam Salam heads an emergency cabinet session at the government palace in downtown Beirut, Lebanon September 9, 2015 (Photo: Reuters)

Lebanon's cabinet on Wednesday approved a plan to end a months-long trash crisis that has sparked unprecedented street protests.

Agriculture Minister Akram Shehayeb announced the agreement, which approves the devolution of waste management duties to municipalities and the opening of two new landfills.

"Tonight the cabinet approved a path out of the crisis," Shehayeb said after a session that lasted more than six hours and came as protesters once again demonstrated in Beirut.

The complex plan will scrap the centralisation of waste collection, a key demand of activists, and open two new "sanitary landfills" in far-flung locations.

It will also see the temporary reopening of the Naameh landfill, which closed in July after protests by local residents, sparking the trash collection crisis.

Shehayeb said Naameh would be reopened for a week only so that the trash that has piled up in Beirut and its suburbs could be disposed of quickly.

But the proposal may be controversial, with residents living around the site long insisting they would not tolerate it being reopened under any circumstances.

The government last year pledged Naameh would close, but failed to find an alternative to what was Lebanon's largest landfill in the intervening period.

When the closure deadline arrived on July 17, residents blocked the entrance to the site and trash began to pile up in the capital and its surroundings.

The crisis sparked angry protests that intially focused on waste management but grew to encompass frustrations with water and electricity shortages and Lebanon's chronically divided political class.

Campaigns like "You Stink" brought thousands of people into the streets in unprecedented non-partisan and non-sectarian demonstrations against the entire political class.

Lebanon has been without a president for more than a year, with its divided parliament unable to elect a successor despite meeting more than two dozen times.

The cabinet has also been paralysed for months, and even the emergency session on Wednesday was boycotted by some members.

Earlier, the country's leading parties met for talks intended to address the political gridlock.

But the session ended without any achievements, and a simple announcement that more talks would be held next week.

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