Lebanon protesters postpone garbage demo, army on streets

Lebanon protesters postpone garbage demo, army on streets

BEIRUT – The Associtated Press
Lebanon protesters postpone garbage demo, army on streets

Lebanese protesters wave the national flag in front of a barbed wire fence during a demonstration, organized by "You Stink" campaign, to protest against the ongoing country's trash crisis on August 23, 2015 in the capital Beirut. AFP Photo

Organizers of the “You stink” protests that have captivated the Lebanese capital postponed anti-government demonstrations set for the evening of Aug 24 after a night of violent clashes with police during which dozens of protesters and police officers were wounded.

The Lebanese army took up positions in and around downtown Beirut, stationing armored personnel carriers on street corners. Anticipating more protests, authorities began installing blast walls near the main Lebanese government building, site of the largest protests.

The demonstrations, sparked by a garbage-collection crisis that has left trash piled in the streets for weeks, have grown into a grassroots movement demanding the resignation of the entire government and an end to the country’s dysfunctional sectarian system.

What started last week as peaceful protests by thousands of people turned violent over the weekend after a small group of young men repeatedly tried to tear down a barbed wire fence separating the crowds from the government building, which houses the prime minister’s office and the Cabinet.

On Aug. 22 and 23 at night, police fired tear gas and water cannons at the protesters, battling them in the streets of Beirut in clashes that saw both sides hurling rocks and plastic bottles at each other.

Sporadic gunfire could be heard in the capital’s commercial district into the night on Aug. 24 as police fired in the air to disperse those who remained. A few protesters later set tires ablaze in Martyrs’ Square, with some even pulling down trees, smashing windows and traffic lights.

Workers were seen sweeping glass and other objects that were set on fire from the streets on Aug. 24.

“We arrived in the morning, found everything broken, chairs on the floor, everything is a mess,” said Joseph Khoury, who works at a car rental agency in downtown. The agency’s glass window was smashed.

The organizers of the protest say they have been infiltrated by political elements and thugs to discredit their peaceful movement. They announced the cancellation of protests planned for Monday evening on their You Stink movement’s Facebook page, saying they would hold a news conference later in the day to explain their decision.

“Those who did this do not represent the Lebanese people,” said Salah Noureddine, a Lebanese who lives in Canada and was one of a handful of people protesting in downtown on Aug. 24.

The demonstrations, the largest in years to shake tiny Lebanon, seek to upend what protesters see as a corrupt and dysfunctional political system with an ineffective Cabinet and parliament. Due to chronic infighting, Lebanon has been without a president for more than a year.

U.S. Ambassador to Lebanon David Hale said he was “deeply troubled” by the images and reports of injuries and called for a thorough investigation and restraint on all sides.

“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,” he said, following a meeting with Prime Minister Tammam Salam on Aug. 24.