BEIRUT - Protesters in Beirut braved the haze of a sandstorm Wednesday as a gathering of Lebanon’s political leaders made some progress on a lingering garbage crisis but continued to deadlock on wider reform.
Thousands occupied Martyrs' Square in the latest mass protest led by the You Stink movement, and now joined by a range of civic groups and unions demanding change.
Even with a late-night resolution to address the country’s litter crisis emerging once most protesters had gone home, protest organizers still vowed to press for broader political reforms.
Pelted with eggs
A small number of demonstrators gathered in the morning to hurl eggs at the cars of leading politicians heading toward parliament.
The politicians were meeting for a "National Dialogue Session," gathering most of the key figures from across Lebanon’s complex and divided political spectrum. It sought to help resolve a wide range of issues mired in political squabbling.
This included the 15-month absence of a president, as well as the deadlock that has prevented a deeply divided Cabinet from passing bills.
The dialogue failed, with another organized for next week. But according to reports, an emergency Cabinet meeting held afterward produced an agreement to create new landfills and decentralize the waste management sector.
This trash crisis began in July after the closure of the Naameh landfill.
With the news of a deal emerging close to midnight in Lebanon, You Stink co-founder Assad Thebian said the group needed to study the plan more closely, but pointed out that Naameh landfill would be temporarily reopened, something he opposes.
Uniting with unions
Wednesday's protest and political talks came after tens of thousands packed into Martyrs’ Square demanding reform on August 29.
The sandstorm limited turnout and numbers were not as high, although thousands still took to the streets.
Joining You Stink were a range of civic groups, some of which had been spawned in the wake of the garbage crisis.
Union groups also joined for the first time with representatives given the chance to address the flag-waving and placard-carrying audience on a central stage over huge loudspeakers not seen at previous demonstrations.
Heading to the ministry
Once the main speeches had finished, protesters were instructed to head toward the Environment Ministry in support of a group camped outside the building on a hunger strike.
The group began its strike Friday in a bid to pressure Environment Minister Mohammad Machnouk to resign, a call he has resisted.
“We’re trying everything,” Rania Yazbek, 43, told VOA before news of the Cabinet meeting emerged. “Some of us throw bottles, some cheer. We’re trying to express ourselves, and the hunger protesters are doing well, but we hope the international media notice them, as the politicians don’t care.”
Yazbek, from south Lebanon, said she was “sick and tired” of the current politicians, adding “they are not the ones to solve our problems.”
A longer process
The growth of the You Stink movement from its roots protesting the rubbish crisis has been led by a wave of public anger at politicians and a sectarian political system many see as failing to serve the Lebanese people.
Along with the resignation of Machnouk, demands issued include resolving the rubbish crisis and calling parliamentary elections, which have been delayed in the wake of parliament twice extending its mandate.
The movement’s previous mass protests saw hundreds hospitalized as the state deployed tear gas, rubber bullets and water cannons, while some protesters also incited violence.
Thebian and the You Stink movement have consistently and strongly condemned the violence at previous protests.
He said the protests had “proved our ability to organize and mobilize regardless of obstacles.” He added that despite the Cabinet decision, the You Stink movement would continue and its tactics would shift.
Thebian insisted the movement would not relent, adding that the coming days and weeks were likely to include more of a focus on what he called “direct action.”