Salam hints at resignation as Lebanon crisis takes nasty turn

Friday 21/08/2015
Crisis echoes wider problems

BEIRUT - Lebanon\'s prime minister has hinted he might resign after violent protests against government corruption and political dysfunction focused on a month long trash crisis.

Tammam Salam said in a news conference that security forces who used force against protesters will be held accountable and that the right to demonstrate is protected by the constitution.

Salam told the protesters he is ready to have a dialogue with them, as around 100 protesters chanted \"leave, leave.\"

Salam\'s comments on Sunday came a day after police firing tear gas, rubber bullets and water cannons battled thousands of protesters in downtown Beirut.

Police said 35 people, including protesters and police, were injured.

Salam said that if next Thursday\'s Cabinet meeting is not productive, \"then there is no need for the council of ministers.\"

\"The people want the overthrow of the regime,\" said protesters using the famous chants made by Arab protesters during the height of popular protests that swept the region after 2011 and toppled several longstanding rulers.

Last month the country was left with mounting piles of rubbish after politicians, divided by regional and local conflict, were unable to agree where to dump the capital\'s refuse.

The crisis was temporarily resolved when the rubbish was finally cleared but bickering within the government over which company to award the new contract has exposed it to allegations of corruption from opponents.

The interior ministry said it had ordered the release of protesters detained during the clashes, which saw youths hurling rocks at police during the attempt to storm a heavily protected security zone around the Saraya palace, the seat of government.

Some politicians warned the crisis could threaten to bring down his national unity government that has maintained a semblance of central authority and helped to contain sectarian tensions.

Some politicians within the government opposed to Salam have blamed what they describe as \"excessive use of force\" by security forces against peaceful protests organised by civil campaigners and activists for provoking clashes.

The crisis echoes wider problems facing Lebanon.

The weak state has long been criticized for failing to develop the country and its infrastructure. Beirut still suffers daily power cuts 25 years after the end of the 1975-1990 civil war.

Protesters called for the resignation of the government, blaming it for worsening the country\'s political paralysis.

But government has been particularly poor since the eruption of the war in neighbouring Syria. That conflict has exacerbated Lebanon\'s political divisions, often along sectarian lines that reflect the Syrian conflict.

The presidency has been vacant for more than a year, and the parliament elected in 2009 has extended its own term and postponed elections until 2017 on the grounds of instability.