BEIRUT: Several thousand protesters poured into Downtown Beirut’s Martyrs’ Square Wednesday despite a sandstorm to participate in the latest demonstration by the You Stink campaign against the political class and the garbage crisis.
Crowds coming from different areas of the country, including Tripoli, Akkar, Mount Lebanon and Sidon, arrived at the square hours after politicians held a national dialogue session that ended with no breakthroughs or viable solutions to the ongoing domestic crises.
Activists from Lebanon’s different districts made one-minute speeches on the different environmental problems plaguing their areas.
“In Tripoli, we have a garbage dump with an altitude that exceeds 35 meters in altitude, we have an unemployment rate of 75 percent and 70 percent among our youth,” an activist from the northern city said. “I call on all Tripoli residents to unite because the politicians do not represent us.”
Ali Qanso, who hails from the southern district of Nabatieh, said his area had a waste treatment plant but it is not operational because of political corruption. He said a number of illegal garbage dumps have spread in Nabatieh, creating foul odors and toxic emissions.
A representative from Akkar is Not a Dump, a recent campaign against a plan to create a garbage dump in the northern district, addressed MPs representing the area saying: “None of you represents us. We are the people of Akkar, we have our own word and we have dignity.”
“Iqlim al-Kharoub (an area in Mount Lebanon) is not anymore an emirate in the hand of one feudal lord or capitalist,” said an activist from the village of Barja, whose residents held several protests against creating a garbage dump in their area.
He said a large number of women from Barja suffer from breast cancer because of the illegal dumping of toxic waster in the area.
Security forces limited the protest to Martyrs' Square and prevented demonstrators from reaching Riad al-Solh Square, which is closer to the Parliament where the dialogue was held hours earlier.
A number of protesters who were present during the day pelted the cars of politicians coming to Downtown Beirut with tomatoes and eggs.
The demonstration comes 11 days after a massive protest was held in the same location to exert pressure on the government to find sustainable, environment friendly solutions to the garbage crisis.
The movement is also calling for the resignation of Environment Minister Mohammad Machnouk over his failure to reach a solution, the decentralization of the waste management sector and immediate parliamentary elections.
A number of student groups, NGOs and labor union also mobilized for Wednesday’s protest.
The most notable call came from the head of the Independent Union Movement Hanna Gharib, who had been a prominent figure in the Union Coordination Committee as the head of the Secondary School Teachers Union until he was ousted in the body’s elections last year by a list jointly supported by parties from across the political spectrum.
President of the Lebanese Physical Handicapped Union Sylvana Lakkis, told The Daily Star that she took the streets because the Lebanese people “shouldn’t have to choose between a stable security situation and basic social demands; we should be receiving both.”
“Unemployment rates amongst handicapped people have surged to 83 percent in Lebanon, which is the highest percentage worldwide, the streets are not readied for us, and most schools aren’t equipped,” she added.
“Even though a law was passed in 2000 concerning the rights of people with disabilities, it has not been implemented,” Lakkis said.
Nizar Ballout, a protester from Hammana, called for a new electoral law, and a president, highlighting that “he is a fresh graduate and hasn’t been able to find work.”
A group of protesters were seen walking all over a large poster illustrating all the politicians’ faces, condemning “the system of thieves” and Wednesday’s dialogue session.
Another fed up demonstrator held a banner that cited a quote from popular TV show “Game of Thrones” with a sarcastic twist, “Winter is coming, so is Cholera.”
A disease scare has gripped Lebanese citizens as the rainy season is approaching and the waste is being thrown next to valleys and rivers.
A protester raised a headline that read: “Why didn’t you call this [sand]storm Nouhad [Machnouk]?”
A large number of people wore protective masks to avoid inhaling dust-filled air, as the sandstorm entered its third consecutive day in the country. The storm led to the death of five people Monday and Tuesday, but no deaths were reported Wednesday.
“The 'You Stink' movement founders urged affiliated movements opposing the sectarian system to take the streets without necessarily commanding them,” an Al-Manar TV reporter said.