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#YouStink protesters take to Beirut streets despite sandstorm

Anti-government protests have swept through Beirut [AFP]

Date of publication: 9 September, 2015

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Activists are set to hit the Lebanese capital with their anti-government demonstrations on Wednesday, to protest against energy cuts and piling refuse.

Lebanese protesters angry over a lack of basic services and festering refuse crisis have returned to the streets of Beirut on Wednesday as party leaders meet, hoping to end months of political gridlock.

Demonstrations were sparked by rubbish piling up in and around the capital, and collection of protest movements have called for demonstrations on Wednesday in the city centre.

Authorities beefed up security measures in central Beirut, erecting large metal barricades preventing access to the parliament, where political figures are to meet.

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

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

But various civil society groups called for a mass protest in Beirut to denounce corruption, saying they would not be deterred by an intense sandstorm that has claimed at least two lives in the country.

"Whatever the weather conditions, we will meet," the You Stink activist group said.

"It was a country... but it was turned into a massive landfill. Let's all take to the streets on Wednesday to pressure all the corrupted leaders," the group said on Facebook.

By mid-morning some protesters had already gathered near parliament.

"We will stay until the end of the day to demand our rights," said 23-year-old Samar Mazeh.

Electricity and water shortages

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

But it has since grown to represent broader frustrations that cut across sectarian and partisan lines, including electricity and water shortages, and endemic corruption among the political elite.

Demonstrations in the capital grew from several dozen protesters to thousands, peaking when tens of thousands descended on Martyrs' Square on 29 August.

Groups including You Stink and We Want Accountability are among a handful of civil society campaigns born out of the movement that have called for additional protests.

Parliament has extended its own mandate twice since the last elections in 2009. Political rivalries have meanwhile paralysed the cabinet, formed in early 2014 on a caretaker basis.

The cabinet has been so divided that it has failed more than two dozen times to elect a president since Michel Suleiman's term expired in May 2014.

Berri has said his call for dialogue on Wednesday was an attempt to jump-start government.

Government 'has no value'

But 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-majority Kataeb party, which is part of the pro-Western March 14 alliance.

Speaking at a press conference on Tuesday, Gemayel said the first point of discussion for politicians would be the election of a president.

"This cabinet was only supposed to last three months, if it weren't for decisions by some people to leave this country without a president," he said.

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"Either this government fulfills the plan it has set out [to solve the refuse crisis]... or our presence in the government has no value, just like this government," Gemayel added.

Michel Aoun, head of the Free Patriotic Movement and the main Christian ally of Hizballah, said it would be a "total failure" if leading figures did not come to an agreement on Wednesday.

"We will discuss the problems and we must be able to solve them justly. Otherwise, it will be a total failure," Aoun said at a separate press conference.

According to media reports, a ministerial commission had reached an agreement on the waste problem that included transferring trash management prerogatives to municipalities and establishing temporary landfills.

US Secretary of State John Kerry's office said on Tuesday that he had called Lebanon's Prime Minister Tammam Salam and "reaffirmed America's strong and continuing support for... efforts to advance political consensus despite the challenging circumstances facing the country". 

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