Police Crackdown on Lebanon’s You Stink Protests

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Image credit Ahmad M. Yassine @Lobnene_Blog

BEIRUT—Nearly 40 protesters were arrested Wednesday in a crackdown on anti-government demonstrators calling for a solution to Lebanon’s garbage crisis and an end to corruption in Beirut, even as organizers said the protests would continue.

The arbitrary arrests broke out as demonstrations attempted to block officials from entering Beirut’s central parliament building, where a second national dialogue to discuss a new election law, resolve the country’s presidential vacuum and garbage crisis was being held. Members from all political parties were invited to join the dialogue.

Lebanon has been without a president for more than a year, a result of the political corruption that has helped fuel the protests.

“’No [to]useless dialogues that abate the work of the State’s institutions,” its organizers said in a Facebook post on Tuesday, calling for protesters to gather outside parliament. “Bring your pans, your eggs, your garbage and your veggies.”

Images and videos posted to social media by activists showed police dragging protesters by their hair and beating them with batons.

Among those targeted for arrest were hunger strikers who have been camping outside the government building without food for nearly two weeks, activists said.

At least 13 protesters were also wounded in rock-throwing attacks by a group of young men chanting slogans in favor of Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, who was leading the talks. Mr. Berri’s political party, Amal Movement, denied involvement in the incident in a statement Wednesday, yet many posts by those involved in the incident on social media identified the attackers as Berri supporters.

Despite Wednesday’s clashes, YouStink, the youth movement behind the protests, said they would continue.

Protests began in July when residents of Naameh, a town south of Beirut, barricaded one of the country’s largest landfills and called it a health hazard. With no alternative dump site, garbage collection in two governorates, Beirut and neighboring Mount Lebanon, came to a near standstill. Trash piled up on the capital’s streets, prompting thousands to demonstrate against the government’s inability to find a solution to the crisis.

Grievances quickly expanded to include frustration with decades of government inefficiency, corruption and its failure to provide basic services including water and power, both of which are regularly shut off.

On Tuesday, the ministry of health highlighted the risks of prolonging the trash crisis into Lebanon’s cold, wet fall and winter seasons. Rain flooding mounds of uncollected trash can cause toxic fluids to seep into the earth, it said in an online statement, contaminating crops with bacteria including salmonella. It also cautioned that metals like nickel and mercury can infect the water supply, increasing the risk of long-term illness including cancer and Alzheimer’s.

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