Anti-government Protesters Gather for Beirut Mass Rally

LebaneseAntiGovernmentProtests.jpg

Beirut, Lebanon - Protesters have started to gather in Lebanon's capital to demonstrate against the government, calling for the resignation of officials responsible for the current services crisis and for new elections.

Tens of thousands were expected to take part in rallies on Saturday afternoon, following several weeks of tensions over the country’s ongoing rubbish disposal issue and the government's failure to provide other services such as water and electricity.

Protesters are demanding the fall of the government, an end to corruption and the release of all protesters detained in previous demonstrations.

Last weekend, tens of thousands of people attended two rallies which descended into violence after security forces opened fire on the protesters.

Security forces used water cannon, tear gas, live ammunition and rubber bullets, while also beating many, leaving hundreds injured over the space of two days.

Human Rights Watch has since called on the government to investigate the excessive use of violence by security forces "and refrain from repeated violence against demonstrators".

Further scuffles erupted again earlier this week as protesters continued to hold sit-ins downtown. On Tuesday, security forces severely beat dozens of protesters and arrested several more, as activists called on the country's interior minister, Nouhad Machnouk, to be held accountable.

Nouhad Machnouk has since announced an investigation into the incidents, and on Friday admitted excessive use of force was used during last Saturday’s protest. In the lead-up to Saturday's protest, he called for "maximum restraint".

Civil society activists, under the movements of You Stink! and We Want Accountability, are demanding accountability against those involved in the use of excessive force against the protesters, new elections to replace the current government – which had previously cancelled elections and extended its own mandate twice – and the resignation of Environment Minister Mohammad Machnouk, for failing to resolve the ongoing garbage crisis.

"We started as dozens of protesters and now we’re thousands," Asaad Thebian, an activist with the You Stink! campaign, said during Friday’s press conference. "We are demanding parliamentary elections."

The crisis started over a month ago following the closure of one of the country’s largest landfills due to over capacity and the increasing environmental and health hazards it was inflicting on residents in the area.

As a result, thousands of tonnes of garbage piled up on the streets of Beirut and Mount Lebanon, as the waste management company was unable to remove it and dump it elsewhere. 

The government, for its part, has been unable to overcome its own political bickering in order to address the issues brought forward by the protesters.

 

As the protests have gained momentum, many politicians and parties currently in government are issuing statements of support for the protests, despite the fact they are the same figures being named and shamed by the protesters. 

The country has been without a president since May 2014, and the parliament has been unable to convene in full in order to vote for one, with cabinet ministers unable to decide how to make decisions, let alone address ongoing issues.

This story was originally published on Al Jazeera.


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