Monday, August 24

"Army deployed to Beirut after anti-government anger boils over"

"This protest has truly unified everybody."

"We are here today against sectarianism of the Lebanese government, our parliament of thieves that stole from the people's pockets, forcing our youth to emigrate."

This is further to my post yesterday featuring a Reuters report on the Lebanese Prime Minister's desperate threat to resign and excoriation of the moribund, divided government. I noted wryly that this could be the first time garbage might cause a government to fall -- but right now it's united the Lebanese in a way that hasn't been seen in a long time.  

Of course it isn't only the small mountains of rotting garbage in the streets that fueled the protests but it was the final straw, as the Reuters report noted. Yet there has been one crisis after another in the country related to basic services. 

See my March 7, 2015 report on Beirut's water shortage crisis earlier this year, The Wells of Beirut, and July 25, 2015 post on the garbage crisis, Beirut Garbage: when the streets of a major city become the landfill -- and this January 12, 2015 report from Al-Monitor, prophetically titled, Lebanon’s continued electricity cuts portend disaster.  

For years the residents of Beirut have complained and otherwise gotten along as best they could. However, there's nothing like living 24 hours a day with the overpowering stench of garbage to mobilize people.

So now the situation in Beirut, already rocked by two days of large, violent street protests, has escalated after the PM's announcement yesterday, with predictable results. (No matter how inept a government, somehow it always manages to pull itself together enough to send out tanks and put up barbed wire and water cannons against the disgruntled citizenry.)

Army deployed to Beirut after anti-government anger boils over
By Kevin Conlon, Raja Razek and Tamara Qiblawi,CNN
Updated 7:26 PM ET, Sun August 23, 2015

[see website for video of tanks in the streets]

(Beirut, Lebanon) Lebanese army units were deployed Sunday in central Beirut following violent street protests over garbage going uncollected, said Col. Joseph Moussalem, spokesman for the Lebanese Security Forces.

Red Cross Lebanon said 49 protesters and police officers were injured in Sunday's protests in the Lebanese capital. Lebanese Red Cross spokesman George Kettaneh said 10% of the injuries were serious.

Moussalem said 31 Lebanese policemen had been injured, one of them critically, by rocks and firecrackers hurled by protesters. He acknowledged that a civilian had been critically injured, although the circumstances were unclear.

Long-simmering weariness over government dysfunction reached a boiling point in Lebanon over the weekend when violent clashes erupted because of garbage going uncollected in the streets of Beirut.

Several thousand took to the increasingly putrid streets of Riad El Solh Square in central Beirut, where a cacophonous scene of explosions, tear gas, flaming garbage and cannon-fired water unfolded Saturday and Sunday.

The Red Cross said on its official Twitter account that 16 people were transferred from the fracas to a hospital Sunday and 23 the day before.

'You Stink'

The weekend protest was organized by a group calling itself "You Stink," a moniker that has as much to do with the rotting garbage that is clogging the streets of Beirut as it does sentiment toward the leaders of the politically stagnant nation.

The paralysis caused by the in-fighting is all-encompassing, ranging from squabbles over basic needs such as trash collection to problems on a more global scale, such as being unable to elect a president.

"We are here today against sectarianism of the Lebanese government, our parliament of thieves that stole from the people's pockets, forcing our youth to emigrate," said one protester who only gave his first name, Mohammed, to CNN. "We are here to protest against lack of jobs, poverty and hunger. "

"This protest is about a government that can no longer sustain the basic needs of its people," said another protester, Karma Hamady.

Hamady told CNN the movement spans deep divisions in the historically fractious country.

"This protest has truly unified everybody," she said.

CNN's Nick Paton Walsh and Raja Razek contributed to this report from Beirut; CNN's Jonathan Mann and Mohammed Tawfeeq from Atlanta.


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