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Beirut Protesters Give the Lebanese Government an Ultimatum

The clock is ticking for Lebanon's government to clean up its act — and the country's streets. Protesters have now given their politicians until Tuesday to come up with a solution to the trash crisis that angry and frustrated Lebanese will accept.
Activistas ondean banderas libanesas y llevan una pancarta con las palabras árabes: "Secularismo, democracia y justicia social" en la ciudad de Beirut, Líbano, 29 de agosto 2015. (Nabil Mounzer/EPA)

Lebanese protesters have given the government a 72-hour ultimatum: come up with a permanent, sustainable solution to the ongoing garbage crisis in Beirut by Tuesday, or civil unrest will escalate.

The ultimatum came on Saturday as possibly 50,000 people assembled in Martyr's square in what onlookers described as a mostly upbeat and positive demonstration, as people of all ages danced to live music and waved Lebanese flags. Rasha Halabi, a representative from the "YouStink" activist group — which organized in response to the mounting, festering piles of garbage around Beirut — spoke before the crowd and called for the resignation of the Environment Minister Muhammed El-Machnouk.


When it started to get dark, the thousands who had gathered in Martyr's square began to disperse. At around 10 pm, reports say that riot police chased lingering protesters out of Martyr's square, beating them as they cleared the area and making several arrests.

Riot police just chased us out of Riad Al Solh. Started beating protestors- both men and women. — Nour Samaha (@Nour_Samaha)August 29, 2015

In the nearby Riad al-Sohl Square, hardline protesters continued into the night, gathering before the Grand Serail — the Lebanese government building — to call for revolution, chanting "Thawra! Thawra! Thawra!" A dozen or so young protesters with scarves wrapped around their faces scaled the barbed wire fence surrounding the building, and then set off fireworks and threw rocks at police.

Dancing inside the wire in front of Grand Serail — Jeff Neumann (@jeff_neumann)August 29, 2015

But clashes between police and protesters remained tame compared to the previous week's events, when images and videos of the demonstrations showed riot police firing tear gas, rubber bullets, water cannons, and live ammunition at protesters, leaving one dead and scores injured.

The unrest rippling across Beirut started as an angry reaction to the local government's failure to provide a trash collection service, but then quickly escalated into a more generalized critique of Lebanon's government, widely regarded as dysfunctional and ineffective, for neglecting the country's infrastructure.


Lebanon is plagued by chronic widespread blackouts and electricity failures. It has been almost 15 years since Lebanon's civil war has ended and the Lebanese government has not yet secured a permanent solution to the electricity supply problem. This means many are forced to rely on individual power generators, which can be extremely costly to run. In 2010 the Lebanese economy and trade minister estimated that Lebanon would need to spend at least $20 billion to improve its basic infrastructure, predominantly in areas of electricity, water, communications and roads.

"This is the first time ever we are waking up and breaking the old system that has chained us" Wissam Saliba, a 26-year-old protester told al-Jazeera. "We are fighting for our basic human rights."

With Tuesday fast approaching, the 72-hour clock is ticking for Lebanon's government to act. Whether or not protests continue into the coming weeks depends on their whether they're able to come up with a solution that angry and frustrated Lebanese will accept.

Additional reporting by Jeff Neumann