Lebanese raise stink over rubbish crisis

A scavenger on top of a pile of garbage by the Beirut River in Lebanon on Monday. Protest organisers have called for a fresh demonstration against the government after a weekend of rallies in central Beirut turned violent and left scores of people in
A scavenger on top of a pile of garbage by the Beirut River in Lebanon on Monday. Protest organisers have called for a fresh demonstration against the government after a weekend of rallies in central Beirut turned violent and left scores of people injured.PHOTO: REUTERS

Anger now directed at corrupt politicians, failing infrastructure

BEIRUT • Lebanon looks set for a second weekend of public protests that began with anger over failure to collect rubbish, but has turned into broad-based frustration over political stagnation, corruption, and crumbling infrastructure.

Lebanon has a trash crisis that began after the government failed to find a replacement for the country's largest landfill, which closed on July 17 and left garbage piling up in and around Beirut.

Organisers of a campaign dubbed "You Stink" have called for a new protest on Saturday against Lebanon's "corrupt political class".

In a rare example of non-partisan action, thousands of people massed in central Beirut last weekend to demand not only an end to the rubbish problem, but also a political overhaul and even the government's resignation.

On both Saturday and Sunday, protests that began peacefully descended into violence, with security forces using tear gas and water cannon against demonstrators.

On Monday, "You Stink" organiser Marwan Maalouf said the campaign was now fighting for three causes: A resolution to the trash crisis, freedom of expression and police accountability.

"In the beginning, this was a battle over the trash issue... But now there is a general battle against the political class," he said.

Environment Minister Mohammad Mashnuq announced on Monday that six new companies would be responsible for waste management, but declined to say where the refuse would be dumped. Most of the six companies awarded are believed to have ties to prominent Lebanese political figures.

Mr Maalouf called the new contracts "theft of public money".

At the weekend's protests, demonstrators also said they were angry about decades of electricity and water disruptions, unemployment and corrupt politicians.

"People are on the streets because they feel that at every level there is no one there for them," said Ms Maha Yahya, a senior associate at the Carnegie Middle East Centre think-tank.

Lebanon's politicians can attract large numbers of supporters on a given political issue, but broad-based protests are not common.

On Sunday, Prime Minister Tammam Salam condemned violence against protesters and called his fragmented Cabinet together yesterday to discuss the "catastrophic" issue of waste disposal.

He warned that his 18-month-old government would become irrelevant if it failed to take action to address public concerns.

Lebanon is no stranger to political instability - it has been without a president for more than a year, and Mr Salam's Cabinet has been unable to take decisions for months because of political gridlock.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 26, 2015, with the headline 'Lebanese raise stink over rubbish crisis'. Print Edition | Subscribe