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article imageLebanon protesters postpone demonstration after violence

By Sara Hussein (AFP)     Aug 24, 2015 in World

Activists in Lebanon vowed Monday to press ahead with protests over a trash crisis that have become an outlet for deep-rooted, broad-based frustration over political stagnation, corruption, and crumbling infrastructure.

Over the weekend, large crowds massed in central Beirut for demonstrations that demanded not only an end to the rubbish problem, but also a political overhaul, even the government's resignation.

On Monday, security forces erected concrete blast walls at the site of the protests.

The organisers of the "You Stink" campaign said they were postponing a demonstration planned for Monday evening after violence erupted on Sunday night, but vowed that the campaign would continue.

"We need to reassess and organise our demands," they said in a statement that also announced a news conference later on Monday.

Lebanese protesters wave the national flag in front of a barbed wire fence during a demonstration ag...
Lebanese protesters wave the national flag in front of a barbed wire fence during a demonstration against the country's trash crisis on August 23, 2015 in the capital Beirut
Anwar Amro, AFP

Analysts said the protests were now about much more than the crisis that left trash piling up in Beirut and beyond.

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

"Basic conditions have deteriorated in this country, in the past year in particular. Electricity, water, jobs, education, health, all of these, people are very concerned about," she said.

The weekend demonstrations were a rare example of non-partisan action on a social issue in Lebanon.

While the country's many politicians can reliably turn out large numbers of supporters on a given political issue, broad-based protests are less frequent.

- 'Heading towards collapse' -

The protests erupted over the government's failure to find a replacement after the country's largest landfill closed on July 17, leaving trash piling up in Beirut and its surroundings.

Meanwhile, the lucrative contract for Beirut's trash collection also expired and went unrenewed, with many accusing politicians of jockeying to profit from the contract.

But the several thousand protesters who gathered at the weekend also said they were angry about decades of electricity and water outages, unemployment, political stagnation and corruption.

Lebanese riot police fire rubber bullets towards protesters during clashes following a demonstration...
Lebanese riot police fire rubber bullets towards protesters during clashes following a demonstration organized by the "You Stink" campaign, on August 23, 2015 in Beirut
, AFP

"It's an alarm bell for all the political leadership," Yahya said.

The protests began on Saturday in Beirut's central Riad al-Solh Square, and were initially peaceful.

But violence broke out at night, with mostly young, male protesters lobbing water bottles, rocks and fireworks at security forces, who responded with tear gas and water cannons.

The pattern was repeated on Sunday night, with an initially peaceful protest descending into violence after dark.

Organisers blamed unaffiliated "troublemakers" and condemned attacks on police.

On Sunday, Prime Minister Tammam Salam condemned violence against protesters and acknowledged their frustrations.

Lebanese riot police fire tear gas towards protesters during clashes following a demonstration  orga...
Lebanese riot police fire tear gas towards protesters during clashes following a demonstration, organized by "You Stink" campaign, to protest against the ongoing country's trash crisis on August 23, 2015 in the capital Beirut
-, AFP/File

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

"If the cabinet meeting on Thursday is not productive there is no need for further sessions," he said.

"We're heading towards collapse if things continue as they are."

- Fear of 'chaos' -

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

The country's parliament has extended its mandate twice since the last election in 2009.

Lebanon's interior minister Nuhad al-Mashnouq (2ndL) inspects the damage following two days of ...
Lebanon's interior minister Nuhad al-Mashnouq (2ndL) inspects the damage following two days of protests sparked by anger over a trash collection crisis, in downtown Beirut on August 24, 2015
, AFP

The conflict in neighbouring Syria has brought instability and more than one million refugees, straining already overwhelmed infrastructure.

In that context, calls for the government's resignation have divided even some protesters, who fear a political collapse and void.

"I'm not at all attached to this rotten regime, but if you bring it down, what would you have instead? A chaos that could destroy the country," said Fadia Kiwan, a political science professor at Lebanon Universite Saint Joseph.

She said the demonstrators would be better off demanding a proper solution to the trash crisis.

"Within these limits, these young people could... put new pressure on the government and the political class."

Yahya too said the collapse of the government could "open the door to a lot more chaos".

She said political leaders needed to put public interests above their own "for once."

"I don't know if they're able to do that."

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