Monday 23 April 2018

Beirut anti-government protests continue as Lebanon's politicians meet

A Lebanese protester stands on a poster with the pictures of 128 Lebanese politicians. (AP)
A Lebanese protester stands on a poster with the pictures of 128 Lebanese politicians. (AP)

Protesters are back on the streets of Beirut as senior Lebanese politicians meet about ways to break a deadlock that has sparked anti-government demonstrations.

A group of activists gathered near the parliament building, which was closed off by security forces, as cars driving politicians were pelted with eggs.

Tensions rose ahead of an anti-government protest planned for Wednesday night.

"This dialogue is a joke. They are meeting to see how they can split the cheese," said Marwan Basha, a 57-year-old engineer taking part in the sit-in near parliament, as riot police stood nearby.

On the barbed wire that separates protesters from the building, activists pinned a large banner with the pictures of the 128 members of parliament with Arabic words that read "You have failed in everything ... Go Home".

Lebanon's latest crisis was sparked by popular anger over the heaps of rubbish accumulating in Beirut's streets after authorities closed the capital's main landfill on July 17 and failed to provide an alternative.

The protests moved on to target an entire political class that has dominated the country and undermined its growth since the civil war ended in 1990. Lebanon has a confessional power-sharing system that often leads to incessant bickering and cronyism among the country's politicians.

Thousands of people have taken part in huge demonstrations over the past two weeks, including two that turned violent. Among other things, they are demanding the resignation of the environment minister and new parliament elections, to be followed by presidential elections.

The country has been without a president for over a year and members of parliament have illegally extended their term twice amid disputes over an election law.

So far, the only response to the growing protest movement has been a promise by the parliament speaker, Nabih Berri, for high-level talks among the politicians, which began on Wednesday.

Mr Berri's call for dialogue has been backed by the main political leaders but it is unclear how the talks will help to break the deadlock.

The leaders are divided over core issues such as what a new election law would look like or whether it should be passed before or after a president is elected.

Prime Minister Tammam Salam urged the politicians to make every effort to help end the paralysis and also called for an extraordinary cabinet meeting later in the day to discuss the issue of refuse collection.

"I hope at the cabinet meeting today ... there will be an immediate solution to rid the country of garbage as a way to propagate trust in the country," Mr Salam told journalists as he went into the parliament building for the meeting.

Press Association

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