Lebanon PM reaches out to critics as trash crisis grows

Lebanon PM reaches out to critics as trash crisis grows
Updated 23 August 2015

Lebanon PM reaches out to critics as trash crisis grows

Lebanon PM reaches out to critics as trash crisis grows

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s prime minister reached out to government critics over the country’s growing trash crisis Sunday, as protesters gathered again following a night of clashes with police.

Weeks of anger about overflowing piles of rubbish in Beirut and other parts of Lebanon erupted on Saturday as thousands protested outside the prime minister’s office.
Police responded with tear gas, water cannon and gunfire as some protesters tried to pull down barricades and barbed wire.
A Red Cross official said at least 16 people had been wounded in the clashes. Lebanon’s Internal Security Forces (ISF) said more than 35 of its members were injured.
Moving to ease tensions, Prime Minister Tammam Salam said on Sunday he was ready to meet with members of the “You Stink” movement which is organizing the demonstrations and has blamed political divisions and corruption for the crisis.
Salam said he stood “with the people and with the citizens,” adding: “I’m ready to listen to you and sit with you.”
He also pledged to hold accountable those responsible for using “excessive force against civil society and against the people.
“We cannot allow yesterday’s events to pass without accountability and follow-up,” Salam said.
He called on Lebanon’s cabinet to meet this week to find a solution to the crisis, railing against political divisions that have paralyzed the country’s institutions.
Salam said the country’s trash crisis was the “straw that broke the camel’s back.”
“But the story is bigger than this straw. This is about the political trash in this country,” he said.
Protesters were meanwhile gathering again in central Beirut on Sunday, joining others who had spent the night in tents near government buildings.
Hundreds of demonstrators, some wearing masks or scarves around their face, had gathered near Salam’s office, an AFP photographer said, while security forces had set up two rows of barbed wire and a row of metal barricades to keep back the crowds.
In a statement to journalists at the protest site, the movement’s leadership rebuffed Salam’s offer of talks and demanded the government’s resignation.
Protesters have been calling for a concrete solution to a crisis that has seen piles of waste growing in Beirut and the populous Mount Lebanon region since the country’s largest landfill was shut on July 17.
With the summer heat at its peak, the stench from the growing mountains of waste has spread through the streets of Beirut and the green hills above the city.
In recent weeks, people have set fire to the piles of trash, while some municipalities have collected rubbish but then disposed of it at illegal dump sites. Furious demonstrators have posted videos and photos on social media of security forces firing into the air and beating back protesters during Saturday’s unrest.
Joey Ayoub, who sits on You Stink’s organizing committee, said the movement’s most pressing demand now was for security forces to be held accountable.
“Our most urgent demand is accountability for the police and army men,” Ayoub said. “We will not leave the street until that demand is met.”
Ayoub said that a small group of people repeatedly attempting to pull aside the barbed wire and barricades were not part of You Stink’s team. “They’re not among us... they’re a very small group of troublemakers,” Ayoub told AFP.
In a statement posted online, the movement also called for the prosecution of Interior Minister Nuhad Mashnuq.
On Sunday, Mashnuq authorized the Internal Security Forces’ chief investigator to interview security forces and civilians present at the Saturday protests and to issue a fact-finding report.