Lebanese protesters storm ministry of environment in Beirut

Published January 14th, 2016 - 11:59 GMT

Lebanese police Thursday cleared the ministry of environment of ten activists who had stormed the building to protest the Cabinet’s lack of transparency and corruption regarding a trash export plan.

Around ten protesters, including activist lawyer Wassef Harakeh, stormed the ministry of environment in the Azarieh Building in Beirut’s downtown at 12 p.m., prompting riot police to lock the entrances.

Policemen arrested several protesters, a Daily Star eyewitness reported.

"Activists were put in a police vehicle and taken to an unknown place," the witness added.

Another witness said that the activists were handcuffed as they were dragged into the vehicle.

Several demonstrators were seen surrounding the vehicle to prevent it from moving as others sat in front of it in protest.

Riot police tried to move protesters by force and a scuffle erupted between them as the vehicle began to move despite the presence of more than 30 protesters on the road.

Activists were shouting and jostling with policemen, who began hitting protesters.

An al-Jadeed correspondent was also attacked by police who tried to take away his microphone during a live broadcast.

The police vehicle finally managed to move away.

You Stink campaign co-founder Assaad Thebian revealed that the detained activists were those who stormed the ministry.

"This is a peaceful entrance. They are sitting on the ground inside and doing nothing," Thebian told MTV.

He considered it "a message to politicians...we only agree to recycling trash. We refuse incinerators, the establishment of landfills and the lack of transparency."

Protesters standing outside began shouting slogans against the Cabinet and politicians who have failed to resolve the country's trash crisis that began in July last year.

"The ministries do nothing and their employees only waste time," activists screamed.

The Cabinet, which hasn't met since September to tackle livelihood matters, had selected Howa, a Dutch company and Britain's Chinook Urban Mining International to manage the country’s trash export scheme in a closed-door session last December. This drew considerable skepticism from the media and the You Stink movement after a newspaper insinuated that Howa lacked experience in waste management.

We Want Accountability group organizer Nehmat Badreddine rejected Free Patriotic Movement officials Education Minister Elias Bou Saab and Former Tourism Minister Fadi Abboud to establish an incinerator in the Metn area of Dhour Choueir.

"We want to recycle our trash," Badreddine told protesters, underlining that protesters "should feel ashamed."

She claimed that protesters inside the ministry were being beaten up by police in attempt to drag them outside the building.

However, TV footage showed the activists sitting on the floor inside the ministry.

The incident brought back memories of a similar move by the You Stink campaign in September when they stormed the same ministry and remained for several hours before riot police forced them out.

The development comes as hundreds rallied in Beirut’s Riad al-Solh square to urge ministers to approve their demands.

“Is it reasonable that the cabinet only meets once every now and then? We want accountability,” a protester told Al-Jadeed channel.

He emphasized that the Lebanese people can no longer “endure pollution or disease,” holding officials responsible for the declining tourist figures, which Lebanon depends on as a main source to boost its economy.

Two protesters held a large banner calling for recycling trash and rejecting the establishment of landfills.

Demonstrators gathering in the area saw heavy police deployment armed with umbrellas and lifting signs criticizing the political elite's failure to manage the country's waste and accusing them of corruption.

The We Want Accountability civil movement Tuesday had called for the protest in Riad al-Solh Square to coincide with a Cabinet session at the Grand Serail over the state's lack of transparency regarding a trash exportation plan.

Thursday's rally was also joined by the renowned You Stink activists, the Civil Defense volunteers and former MP Hasan Yaacoub supporters.

A couple dozen activists from the We Want Accountability movement rallied two days ago outside Beirut's Justice Palace to protest what they said were corrupt institutions and officials, as a delegation from the group met with Financial Prosecutor Judge Ali Ibrahim.

Activists from the same group rushed into the offices of the Central Inspection Directorate last week to demand details on an opaque export scheme intended to relieve the country of its trash crisis.

The Directorate is responsible for supervising the work of other public institutions and handling the bidding processes related to public civil administration departments.

The central district has witnessed several standoffs between protesters and police over the past few months. Authorities removed steel and barbed wire barricades that had been set up in Riad al-Solh Square to block protesters from reaching the government headquarters after a December Cabinet meeting approved the exportation of Beirut and Mount Lebanon's trash.

However, iron barricades were erected again Thursday near the Grand Serail in anticipation of any surprises by protesters.

Civil Defense volunteers joined the protest to demand the Cabinet pass the decrees of a law that would make them full-time employees. The bill would turn around 2,400 emergency workers, who are paid an estimated $200 a month, into full-time employees, raising their salaries significantly.

"We are not here to make any trouble... we only want our righteous demands," one of the civil defense members said.

Several protesters hurled eggs at the Grand Serail.

“The rotten eggs are for this rotten government. What is happening is unacceptable. They are fighting on how to steal from the Lebanese people," a furious protester said.

Demonstrators mainly accused politicians and their parliamentary blocs of exploiting their posts and of corruption.

A few people held the pictures of former MP Hasan Yaacoub who is being held over alleged involvement in the kidnapping of the son of former Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi to demand his swift release.

Mount Lebanon Investigating Magistrate Peter Jermanous issued an arrest warrant for Yaacoub and his three bodyguards – Zein Ali Kassem, Salim Mohammad Mahmoud and Wissam Ali al-Mousawi – on Dec. 22 for their alleged involvement in Hannibal Gadhafi’s kidnapping.

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