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Lebanon’s garbage crisis deepens after weekend of unrest

© Anwar Amro, AFP | Protesters wave a Lebanese flag in the capital Beirut on August 23, 2015

Video by FRANCE 24

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2015-08-25

Lebanon was thrown further into turmoil after clashes erupted for a second day in the capital Beirut on Sunday as protestors called for the government to resign over its failure to resolve the country’s garbage crisis.

Police used tear gas and water cannons to disperse the thousands of protesters, some of whom threw rocks and sticks.

Nearly 100 security personnel and 61 civilians were injured in the unrest, according to the interior ministry.

Protest organisers postponed a demonstration scheduled for Monday evening following the violence, but vowed to continue their campaign.

Protesters blame political infighting and corruption for the garbage crisis, which has left heaps of uncollected rubbish rotting in the summer heat for weeks.

The national unity government, led by Prime Minister Tammam Salam, has achieved little since it came to power last year, with the divided cabinet and parliament unable even to agree on a new president.

Salam said in a televised address on Sunday that Lebanon was headed towards collapse, warning that an even bigger problem than the current garbage crisis was the country’s “political garbage”.

“Frankly, I have not and will not be a partner in this collapse. Let all officials and political forces bear their responsibilities,” he said.

‘You Stink’

At the heart of the demonstrations is the “You Stink” campaign, a grassroots movement that was founded amid mounting frustration in Lebanon over the government’s inability to resolve the ongoing garbage crisis.

“You Stink” organisers have staged numerous protests, including one that was broken up by police in Beirut on August 19. The campaign’s Facebook page has more than 130,000 followers, a not insignificant number in a country with a population of around 4 million.

The garbage crisis began in mid-July, after one of Lebanon’s main landfills closed and the government’s contract with Sukleen, a private waste management company, expired. Sukleen, which is headed by a close friend of former Lebanese prime minister Saad Hariri’s family, had a monopoly on rubbish collection and the waste disposal market in Lebanon, one of the most lucrative in the world.

Despite the growing piles of trash in the capital Beirut and other parts of the country, the country’s squabbling government has been unable to resolve the problem, sparking accusations that it is looking to share in the vast waste management profits.

In the wake of a first day of clashes on Saturday, protesters rhetoric hardened, calling for the “downfall of the regime” and an end to political corruption, while the “You Stink” group demanded the resignation of Salam’s government.

Speaking on Sunday, Salam said that if a cabinet meeting scheduled for Thursday fails to resolve the crisis, including a tender for a new waste management company, “there would be no necessity for government”.

‘We are fed up’

Beyond the public health issue, the garbage crisis has highlighted Lebanese society’s disgust with the cronyism and political infighting which it blames for pushing the country to the brink.

“I went to the protest [on Saturday] because it was peaceful, and for once, it was organised by purely grassroots movements, without religious, political or social leanings, which is pretty rare in Lebanon, because traditionally, everything is politicised,” Nayla, who works at an advertising agency in Beirut, told FRANCE 24.

“We wanted to demonstrate that we are fed up with the situation in the country, where problems are accumulating,” she said, adding that she plans to continue protesting despite the weekend’s violence. “With the electricity and water cuts, growing insecurity, general political corruption… the garbage problem is the ultimate symbol of the chaos that broke the camel’s back. We don’t want to live like this anymore”

The question remains, however, whether the protest movement can survive in a country divided along such deeply entrenched religious and political lines.

“It’s definitely the beginning of something, of a civic consciousness that is waking up sectarian and political divisions” Nadim Houry, who works as deputy director of Human Rights Watch’s (HRW) Middle East and North Africa division and was present at Saturday’s demonstration in Beirut, told FRANCE 24.

“The next weeks will tell us if this spontaneous movement will last in the long term and organise itself in such a way as to influence the country and wake up the political system,” he said.

Date created : 2015-08-24

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