BEIRUT (Reuters) - Lebanese protest organizers called for more demonstrations against the government on Saturday after two days rallies that descended into violence and forced the government to erect blast walls around it headquarters.
The “You Stink” campaign has mobilized against the government’s failure to solve a garbage disposal crisis, bringing thousands of people onto the streets in protests that have threatened the survival of the cabinet.
Organizers at a televised news conference on Monday did not say where the weekend protest would take place but called on Lebanese at home and abroad to come to join in - potentially increasing the risk of more unrest after clashes on Sunday.
Protesters blame political feuding and corruption for the failure to resolve the waste crisis that has in recent weeks left piles of uncollected trash festering in the summer sun.
The campaign has mobilized independently of the big sectarian parties that dominate Lebanese politics in a sign of how long-simmering frustration at Lebanon’s political deadlock has boiled over into open anger.
The fractured cabinet and parliament are paralyzed, the political class has been unable to agree on a new president for more than a year while the Syrian civil war next door has whipped up sectarian tension.
“It’s been two days that I have been coming because of the corruption in the government, corruption in services and the way the security forces deal with us,” said Jamil Oueineh, who said demonstrators like him wanted to “bring down the sectarian regime.”
Organizers have blamed the violence on troublemakers who they believe are connected to rival sectarian parties.
“Lebanon on brink of chaos,” the headline of the Daily Star newspaper said. “Infiltrators hijack the You Stink revolution,” said the An-Nahar newspaper. The As-Safir newspaper called it “the Aug. 22 Intifada,” or uprising.
Prime Minister Tammam Salam on Sunday threatened to resign, saying the bigger problem in the country was its “political garbage,” in an attack on the politicians who are bickering over top security posts.
The U.N. special coordinator for Lebanon on Monday urged “maximum restraint” by all sides in the protests. Security forces fired water cannon and teargas against demonstrators, some of whom threw stones and sticks at riot police on Sunday.
On Monday, workers erected the concrete blast walls around the government offices in central Beirut. Some streets remained littered with glass and charred debris from the night before.
Protesters had planned to rally on Monday but postponed it following the violence and instead held a smaller march of hundreds of people, escorted by security services as they headed toward the seat of government.
The interior minister said 99 members of the security forces and 61 civilians had been injured so far.
Environment Minister Mohamad Al Machnouk earlier on Monday named companies that had won waste management tenders in Lebanon’s regions, but it did little to appease the protesters.
The national unity government led by Salam has been mostly hamstrung since it came to office last year, paralyzed by rivalries among politicians that have been exacerbated by crises in the wider region.
Conflict in the Middle East, including the war in neighboring Syria, has strained Lebanon’s sectarian system of government to breaking point. The presidency is reserved for a Christian and has been left vacant for a year and parliamentary elections have been postponed.
The Salam cabinet, formed last year with the blessing of regional rivals Saudi Arabia and Iran, has avoided a complete vacuum in the executive arm. It groups rival Lebanese parties including the Future movement led by Sunni politician Saad al-Hariri, Shi‘ite Hezbollah, and Christians.
But it has struggled to take even basic decisions, including agreeing a plan for Beirut’s waste when the city’s garbage dump was shut last month.
Tension in cabinet has escalated over appointments in the security agencies and army.
In the absence of any broad deal on who should replace outgoing security chiefs, the terms of incumbents including army commander General Jean Kahwaji were extended in recent weeks.
That has infuriated one of the main Christian parties, the Free Patriotic Movement led by Michel Aoun, an ally of the powerful Hezbollah. Aoun is seeking the appointment of his son-in-law, a top army commander, as the next army chief.
The Free Patriotic Movement accuses Salam of usurping presidential powers but it has not quit his cabinet.
Salam’s threat to resign has fueled concern of a bigger crisis. He said that if a cabinet meeting scheduled for Thursday was not productive on issues including a tender to decide on a new refuse collection company, “there would be no necessity for the government after it.”
Should it collapse, his government would stay on in the caretaker capacity. However, his resignation would trigger a constitutional crisis because in Lebanon it is the president who appoints the prime minister.
Additional reporting by Sylvia Westall and Issam Abdullah, Editing by Samia Nakhoul and Alison Williams