Lebanese protesters return to streets after failed national dialogue

Published September 9th, 2015 - 02:49 GMT

Lebanese protesters angry over a lack of basic services and festering garbage returned to the streets of Beirut on Wednesday and threw eggs at the convoys of officials arriving in parliament to attend a national dialogue that Speaker Nabih Berri chaired.

The protesters shouted "thieves!" and threw the eggs as the convoys of politicians drove by. Sparked by waste piling up in the capital and Mount Lebanon, a collection of protest movements demonstrated ahead of and during the dialogue and were planning a bigger protest in the afternoon.

Berri adjourned the session after around four hours, with TV networks describing the meeting as fruitless.

A terse official statement recited by the parliament's secretary-general said “the conferees explained their viewpoints on the current issues while focusing on the agenda's first item, which is the presidential vote and the steps needed to achieve it.”

“The next session has been set for Wednesday, September 16,” it added.

Meanwhile, MTV said the last 30 minutes of the session witnessed a heated debate that prompted Free Patriotic Movement leader MP Michel Aoun to “raise his voice in anger.”

According to LBCI television, Aoun clashed with head of al-Mustaqbal bloc ex-PM Fouad Saniora over the issue of “electing a strong president.” Telecom Minister Butros Harb joined the exchange of tirades later, LBCI said.

Future TV meanwhile said that “Aoun raised the issue of amending the Constitution to elect a president by a popular vote, drawing responses from Berri, Saniora and Harb.”

LBCI said the waste management file was also discussed during the session and that all parties were asked to facilitate the work of the cabinet during the emergency meeting that Prime Minister Tammam Salam scheduled for Wednesday afternoon.

During the session, Salam hoped that the dialogue would lead to a better future for the country and urged all parties to contribute to its success. He also told reporters at the parliament that he had called for an emergency cabinet session on Wednesday afternoon to discuss the waste crisis.

Berri had called for the dialogue conference among the main parties to discuss the stalemate that has frozen government institutions for months.

They are expected to discuss ways to end the vacuum at Baabda Palace, the resumption of the work of parliament and the cabinet, a new electoral draft-law, legislation allowing Lebanese expats to obtain the nationality, administrative decentralization and ways to support the army and the Internal Security Forces.

Berri said talks on the presidential deadlock are a priority.

Authorities had beefed up security measures in downtown Beirut, erecting large metal barricades preventing access to the parliament where political figures held their meeting.

The protest movement of civil society groups began in mid-July as piles of garbage built up in Beirut and Mount Lebanon after the closure of Lebanon's largest landfill in Naameh.

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 August 29.

Groups like "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.

The dialogue call has been met with skepticism by demonstrators, with various groups calling for a mass protests on Wednesday afternoon.

Campaigners said the protests would go ahead despite an intense regional sandstorm that has claimed three lives in Lebanon.

"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 "You Stink" activist campaign said on Facebook.

"This dialogue is a lie to the people," said Tareq al-Mallah, an activist with "You Stink." 

"They've besieged us as though we were in a military barracks and confined us to a single area, but we are here to stay," he said.

Samer Mazeh, a 23-year-old student, ridiculed the dialogue as a farce.

"The dialogue only aims ... to circumvent us," he told AFP.

"The trash crisis can be solved and there are many options available to countries around the world, but they don't want a solution, because trash is a goldmine for them."

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