Fresh protests as Lebanon parties meet to end gridlock

Protesters hit Beirut streets again since politicians failed to achieve results in talks over the crisis

Fresh protests as Lebanon parties meet to end gridlock

World Bulletin / News Desk

Lebanon protesters angered by a lack of services and political paralysis returned to Beirut's streets on Wednesday after party leaders failed to achieve results in talks on ending the gridlock.

A protest movement across Lebanon's sectarian fault lines has sprung up, initially motivated by a rubbish collection crisis but increasingly focused on the country's stagnant political class.

On Wednesday, as politicians arrived downtown, the first batch of protesters threw eggs at their convoys, chanting: "Thieves, thieves, get out!"

Authorities boosted security measures, erecting large metal barricades preventing access to parliament where political figures were meeting.

Parliament speaker Nabih Berri, who also heads the Shiite Amal movement, had called for a "national dialogue" among main parties to discuss a stalemate that has frozen government institutions for months.

But the meeting ended Wednesday afternoon with the announcement of a new meeting on September 16.

A parliament statement said "the participants expressed their points of view... about the main topic, which is the election of a president."

Lebanon has been without a president since May 2014 as a divided parliament has failed more than two dozen times to elect a head of state.

Ahead of Wednesday's meeting, Prime Minister Tammam Salam said he hoped "that the participants will be able to reach an end to the crisis."

He also announced he was convening an extraordinary cabinet session at 5:00 pm (1400 GMT) to discuss the trash crisis.

- 'A lie to the people' -

The unproductive dialogue was met with anger by demonstrators on Wednesday, who gathered despite an intense regional sandstorm that has claimed three lives in Lebanon.

"If any of you ever felt an ounce of responsibility, you wouldn't allow any postponement of the meeting before finding a solution and a response to the people's demands," wrote the "You Stink" campaign, which has organised protests for nearly two months.

As the session opened, several dozen demonstrators gathered in central Beirut, with crowds growing ahead of the main protest at 6:00 pm (1500 GMT).

"This dialogue is a lie to the people," said Tarek Al-Maleh, an activist with "You Stink".

"They've besieged us as though we were in a military barracks and confined us to a single area, but we are here to stay," he said.

Samer Mazeh, a 23-year-old student, ridiculed the political dialogue as a farce.

"The dialogue only aims... to circumvent us," he told AFP.

"The trash crisis can be solved and there are many options available to countries around the world, but they don't want a solution because trash is a goldmine for them."

Lebanon's protest movement began in mid-July as pungent garbage piled up in Beirut and its environs after the closure of the country's largest landfill.

But it has since grown to incorporate frustrations that cut across sectarian and partisan lines, including over electricity and water shortages, and endemic political corruption and stagnation.

- Divided political system -

Lebanon's political system is deeply divided between two main blocs, one led by the Shiite Hezbollah movement allied with Syria and Iranian-backed, and the other by Sunni former prime Saad Hariri, who is supported by Saudi Arabia and the West.

The cabinet, formed in early 2014, has been paralysed by rivalries, and divisions in parliament have kept it from electing a president, a process in which now war-ravaged neighbour Syria traditionally had a major say.

The legislature has, however, extended its own mandate twice since the last elections in 2009.

Berri has said his call for dialogue is an attempt to jump-start these institutions and Wednesday's session was expected to focus on the issue of the presidency.

But ahead of the talks, leading political figures warned of failure.

"This government is not able to respond to the demands of the Lebanese," said Sami Gemayel, head of the Christian party Kataeb party, which is part of Hariri's "March 14" alliance.

"Either this government fulfils the plan it has set out (to solve the trash crisis)... or our presence in the government has no value, just like this government."

Michel Aoun, head of the Free Patriotic Movement that is Hezbollah's main Christian ally, said it would be a "total failure" if leading figures did not reach an agreement Wednesday.

According to media reports, a ministerial commission has a plan for the waste crisis that includes transferring garbage management responsibilities to municipalities and establishing temporary landfills.

Last Mod: 09 Eylül 2015, 17:46
Add Comment