Minor Scuffles as Protesters Rally in Riad al-Solh

08/25/2015 - 18:31 PM

Lexus of Westminster

Large crowds rallied Tuesday at Beirut's Riad al-Solh Square for a fourth day to denounce the government's performance, in a protest that remained largely peaceful despite minor scuffles with security forces.

Two people were injured as security forces used batons to push away protesters after some participants described as “infiltrators” hurled rocks and “molotov cocktails” at police, the Internal Security Forces and state-run National News Agency said.

Organizers from the “We Want Accountability” movement immediately intervened to calm the situation, forming a human wall between security forces and protesters.

The movement ended its sit-in at 9:00 pm, announcing that it would not be responsible for any person who remains in the square after 9:00 pm. It also announced that it would return to the square on Wednesday.

Protesters had carried Lebanese flags and banners expressing their anger and frustration over the government's performance in several vital issues. Some of them chanted slogans demanding “the fall of the regime” and a “revolution against corruption.”

Later in the evening, NNA said “infiltrators” hurled firecrackers at security forces and set the barb wire on fire with some clothes and plastic barriers. They also hurled water bottles and rocks at police.

“Some protesters tried to separate between the infiltrators and security forces, who maintained restraint,” NNA added, noting that “a scuffle erupted later between protesters and infiltrators.”

The agency said three people were injured as a result of “random hurling of rocks.” For its part, the ISF said at least two of its members were wounded.

The protest came as Prime Minister Tammam Salam ordered the removal of a concrete blast wall at the site, which Lebanese had dubbed the "wall of shame."

The wall was erected after protests on Saturday and Sunday turned violent.

The crowds swelled on Tuesday, despite the "You Stink" campaign which was behind the street protests scheduling its next official demonstration for Saturday.

Protests also took place in Hasbaya, Baalbek and Nabatiyeh, calling for greater accountability.

At the weekend, Salam acknowledged protesters' frustrations and warned that his government risked becoming irrelevant if it could not address the public's concerns.

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

But a cabinet meeting on Tuesday was unable to resolve the social issue that has united protesters for a rare display of non-sectarian anger.

It was intended to discuss companies qualified to bid for new waste removal contracts. 

The list had drawn fire from activists who said the firms were linked to political figures and were seeking exorbitant fees.

Lebanon already pays some of the world's highest per-ton waste collection rates, and media said the companies sought to raise prices even further.

The core of the crisis, which erupted after the July 17 closure of the landfill serving Beirut and its surroundings, remains unaddressed.

When the Naameh landfill closed, the government failed to identify sites for new landfills or alternative arrangements.

Trash began piling up until local municipalities found temporary solutions -- dumping in empty lots, river beds and even forests.

Tuesday's cabinet statement made no mention of potential landfill solutions.

But it said $100 million (around 87 million euros) of development money was being allocated to the northern Akkar region, which some politicians have proposed as a potential landfill site.

Media said that even after new waste management contracts were approved, it could take up to six months for collection and disposal to begin.

On Monday, leaders of "You Stink" said they were regrouping after the weekend violence.

They blamed the clashes on "troublemakers," but also acknowledged that they needed time to organize better.

They called a new demonstration for Saturday night against Lebanon's "corrupt political class."

Lebanon has been without a president for more than a year, and parliament has twice extended its own mandate since the last elections in 2009.

The country has long suffered chronic electricity and water problems and has seen its resources stretched yet further by an influx of more than a million Syrian refugees.

Y.R.


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