Lebanon protesters to political leaders: Meet our demands of face escalation
BEIRUT - Pressure was growing Sunday on Lebanon's government after a protest campaign spurred by a trash crisis gave political leaders a deadline to meet their demands.
"Your time is up," the "You Stink" campaign behind Saturday's huge demonstration in downtown Beirut said on its Facebook page.
At a mass rally on Saturday, "You Stink" threatened an "escalation" of their protest movement if the government does not meet their demands by Tuesday evening.
The 72-hour ultimatum is calling for a sustainable solution to a trash crisis that flared in mid-July and the resignation of Environment Minister Mohammad Mashnuq.
"You Stink" is also demanding new parliamentary elections to replace a legislature that has been in power since 2009.
On Saturday, protesters gathered in Beirut's iconic Martyrs Square to express their rage at endemic corruption in the government and lack of basic services, including power and water shortages.
Carrying Lebanese flags and clever multilingual banners, men and women of all ages flooded the square in a rare example of non-partisan mobilisation in the divided republic.
"The citizen first" and "Down with the rule of the corrupt", read some of the banners held up by protesters who said they were fed up with the political class.
Some read out the names of Lebanese political leaders -- many of whom have been in their posts for over a decade -- and yelled "Leave!" after each name.
Newspapers on Sunday paid tribute to the tens of thousands who flooded the streets, noting that for once the protest was organised by civil society instead of Lebanon's divided political elite.
"The Saturday of the people," headlined As-Safir newspaper.
An-Nahar daily said the demonstration "points to the certainty of change... under the pressure of a street that has been freed of the division between March 8 and March 4".
It was referring to Lebanon's main rival political blocs. March 14 is supported by Washington and Riyadh, while March 8 is headed by Hezbollah, which has the backing of both Damascus and Tehran.
The protest movement was initially launched to demand a solution to the crisis that has seen rubbish pile up on the streets uncollected. But it has expanded to call for a total government rehaul.
There was no official government response Sunday to demands by the protesters, who are also calling for municipalities to take responsibility for rubbish collection.
Prominent Druze leader Walid Jumblatt tweeted that Saturday's protests "expressed the true pains of the Lebanese citizen... that no party dares to respond to".
Political rivalries have undermined change in Lebanon for years.
The 128-seat parliament has twice extended its mandate since 2009, and has been unable to elect a president since May 2014 while deadlock has paralysed any effective work by the cabinet.
"For the first time in a long time, civil society has mobilised for social demands, and not for the demands of a political leader," An-Nahar added.
Along with "You Stink," other groups like "We want accountability" and "To the streets" have called on supporters to take part in protests.
Organisers have insisted that their criticism of the political class exempts no party or figure.
"We are against all of the political class. The slogan is, 'All of them, means all of them,'" said "You Stink" organiser Lucien Bourjeily.
Last weekend, protests descended into violence when some demonstrators threw fireworks and plastic bottles at security forces who retaliated with tear gas, water cannons, and rubber bullets.
Many have criticised the riot police's use of violence, with Prime Minister Tammam Salam admitting it was "excessive".
Interior Minister Nuhad Mashnuq, who has come under fire from the protesters, said his ministry's investigation into the incident would be revealed on Wednesday.
In Lebanon, a country which witnessed a devastating civil war between 1975 and 1990, power is shared among Christians and Muslims.
The president is traditionally a Maronite Christian, the prime minister a Sunni Muslim and the parliament speaker a Shiite Muslim.
Many former warlords continue to play a key role in Lebanese politics today, some as members of parliament while others as members of the government.