Lebanese protesters face off with police in Beirut

Thousands of Lebanese protesters return to streets of Beirut demanding end to country’s rubbish crisis and resignation of ministers

Photo by: Reuters
Photo by: Reuters

Protesters chant slogans and raise Lebanese national flags during protests in Beirut, Lebanon on September 20, 2015

More than 1,000 Lebanese protesters gathered and marched towards the country's parliament building in the Central District of Beirut on Sunday from the suburb of Burj Hammoud, calling on politicians to take action to solve country’s two-month-long rubbish crisis.

Clashes erupted at protests between pro-government and anti-government protesters, with police allegedly joining in the fighting.

Police enclosed and blocked off the streets toward the parliament building where the protesters raised their hands to show they were unarmed shouting “peaceful.”

After more than an hour, hundreds of Lebanese protesters broke through the security cordon to the Lebanese parliament building, demanding their leader resign and new parliamentary elections. Police let them pass the streets leading to the parliament building but set up a new cordon closer to the building. Additional police forces were deployed in case tensions might grow.

“The people are the source of authority,” protest organiser Ajwad Ayyash told the crowd.

“This is the square of the people. And we insist we must enter it so that we can have elections.”

The march was organised by the “You Stink” movement led by an activist group mobilised during the rubbish crisis. The protesters said the latest rubbish crisis was the last of a slew of corruption allegations surrounding major leaders in Beirut. Many Lebanese citizens have demanded the resignation of country’s President Michel Suleiman due to the growing police violence during the summer.

"We do not want any more dumps, we need hygienic dumps with international standards that do not create cancerous diseases that kill the people," protester Neamat Badereddine said.

A protester threw garbage in front of one of the entrances to the environment ministry, as he calls on minister to resign over the rubbish crisis, in Beirut, Lebanon on September 15, 2015 (Reuters)

Rubbish has since been been piling up in the streets, triggering anti-government protests and raising health concerns.

Beirut-based rubbish disposal campaign "You Stink," started rallying in late August over uncollected rubbish, reflecting  long-simmering anger about government incompetence and political corruption.

"The corrupt in the regime are against this movement because they fear accountability and to be caught red-handed with evidence of corruption," said YouStink activist Abdel Malek Soukkariyyeh.

"They will continue to be corrupt and to make fortunes out of the poor from all sects."

Earlier on Sunday, several hundred government supporters were waiting in downtown Beirut as an anti-government group arrived. The pro-government group attacked the anti-government group which were waving a photo of parliament speaker, Nabih Berri, accusing him of corruption. The two groups started to brawl, Lebanese newspaper The Daily Star reported on Sunday.

Protests have continued since Lebanese officials failed to reach a deal to end Beirut’s rubbish crises. On Thursday, clashes broke out between riot police and protesters, and at least 39 people were detained at protests organised by the “You Stink” civic movement.

The Lebanese parliament has not elected a president for more than a year. The parliament has delayed the elections and extended its term twice. The last elections were held in 2009.

Meanwhile, Lebanon, with the population of four million people, accepted almost 1.5 million Syrian refugees.

"There is no improvement, the rubbish is at our doors, the new plan for gathering the rubbish will be lacking finance soon. We have nothing, and we are asking for the minimum, for the parliament members to respect the people and give them the minimum of their rights," protester Mira Saab said.

Lebanese anti-government protesters raised their hands as Lebanese riot police blocked a road leading to the parliament building on September 20, 2015 (AP)

Security forces were able to hold back hundreds of protesters by nightfall.

The Daily Star reported, Lebanon’s Interior Minister, Nouhad Machnouk, said "Demonstrations and freedom of expression, under the ceiling of law, is a right guaranteed by the Lebanese Constitution," but underlined the need for security above all. He said free expression should not have undermined the safety of the society.

TRTWorld and agencies