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Lebanon Builds Wall Around Prime Minister's Office to Keep Out 'You Stink' Protesters

Hundreds of protesters and security personnel were injured over the weekend as demonstrations over Beirut’s garbage crisis turned violent.

by VICE News
Aug 24 2015, 5:45pm

Photo par Wael Hamzeh / EPA

The Lebanese army is patrolling the streets of Beirut and security forces have erected a giant concrete wall around the prime minister's office after a weekend of protests that left hundreds of demonstrators and security personnel injured.

The protests were ostensibly prompted by citywide delays in trash collection. Piles of refuse have been left festering in the streets for weeks following the closure of the city's main landfill. Protest leaders delayed planned marches on Monday. 

The UN special coordinator for Lebanon Sigrid Kaag called for "political accountability" in the country, and expressed "deep regret at the death of one demonstrator." She called for all sides to exercise "exercise maximum restraint." Lebanese officials have yet to confirm the protester's death.

The weekend's protests came after Lebanon's health minister warned last week that the country was approaching a "major health disaster" if its waste management problem was not fixed soon. The garbage crisis has given the protest its rallying cry: "You Stink!" or "You Reek!" depending on the translation. It's an insult directed at the politicians who have failed to produce a solution to deal with the filth accumulating in the streets.

Related: Beirut Riot Police Fire Live Ammo and Blast Protesters With Water Cannons

Protesters attempt to block erection of barriers around government building (EPA/Wael Hamzeh)

Children demonstrators in downtown Beirut (Wael Hamza/EPA)

Though Monday's' protests have been delayed, the "You Stink!" campaign continues to be active. "The movement has not and will not stop," a statement on the group's Facebook page said. "Postponing from today to another date this week is not a retreat. We need to reassess and organize our demands."

On Saturday, peaceful protests against the government turned violent as demonstrators hurled stones at police, who responded by firing tear gas, rubber bullets, water cannons, and live ammunition. The clashes left more than a dozen people wounded, and one man in critical condition.

Early Sunday, thousands massed in Riyad Solh Square outside Prime Minister Tammam Salam's office in central Beirut to demand he address the previous day's violence. Salam delivered a televised address that morning, promising that security forces would be held accountable.

Salam tried to placate protesters by acknowledging their grievances. "I have been, like many other fellow Lebanese, patient enough, but yesterday's outcry should not be ignored," he said. "The trash is the straw that broke the camel's back, but the story is much bigger than this straw. It is the story of the political garbage in the country and the political trash in the country."

Related: Lebanon's BMX-Riding Preacher Arrested After Two Years On the Run

Many protesters in the square — including some who had camped out overnight — did not appear satisfied with the prime minister's response, and chanted "the people want the fall of the regime." Some attempted to break through the barbed wire barrier that separated the protesters from government buildings.

The clashes escalated throughout Sunday as some protesters directly took on security forces in central Beirut, flinging stones and bottles. According to the Lebanese Red Cross, more than 400 people were injured in Sunday's violence.

The trash delay reflects a wider political paralysis in Lebanon. Lebanon has not had a president in more than a year, and the political coalition led by Salam is a fragile alliance between rivals, including the Shia political movement Hezbollah, the Sunni-led Future Movement of Saad al-Hariri, and several smaller Christian parties. 

Over the past year, Hezbollah has unilaterally intervened in Syria's civil war, Lebanon has weathered an influx of millions of refugees, and attacks by Islamic State militants on Lebanese soil have destabilized the delicate political balance. The political process has ground to a halt, and feuding elites have failed to deliver basic services.

On Monday, US Ambassador to Lebanon David Hale met Salam and said he he was "deeply troubled" by the images and reports coming out of the protests."

"Lebanon's citizens deserve to have basic services they can count upon, just as they deserve a parliament that overcomes its divisions and elects a president," Hale said.

Related: In Photos: Beirut's Massive, Mounting Trash Problem

Police and protesters clash in central Beirut on Sunday (Wael Hamza/EPA)

Lebanese activists try to remove barbed wire blocking the entrance to the Lebanese Government Palace (Wael Hamzeh/EPA)

Protesters in Riyad Solh Square face off against water cannons (Wael Hazmeh/EPA)

Police use water canons on protesters outside government buildings (Wael Hamzeh/EPA)

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