'Topple the regime!' shout protestors in trash-clogged Beirut

Lebanon is experiencing its largest protests in years, by people furious at the corruption and dysfunction that has brought about Lebanon's current political crisis, and paralyzed waste removal services.

AP Photo/Bilal Hussein
Lebanese Prime Minister Tammam Salam speaks during a press conference at the government palace in Beirut, Lebanon, Sunday, Aug. 23, 2015. Salam hinted he might resign after violent protests by people demonstrating against government corruption and political dysfunction amid a trash crisis. He said that security forces who used force against protesters will be held accountable and that the right to demonstrate is protected by the constitution.

Thousands of protesters poured into central Beirut on Sunday demanding that the country's top politicians resign, hours after Prime Minister Tammam Salam hinted he might step down following violent protests triggered by a monthlong trash crisis.

The demonstrations, the largest in years, railed against the corruption and dysfunction that has brought about Lebanon's current political crisis. The country does not have a functioning Cabinet or parliament, and hasn't had a president for more than a year.

Salam said in a news conference at the government's headquarters that if this Thursday's Cabinet meeting is not productive, "then there is no need for the council of ministers."

Lebanon has a sectarian power-sharing system that ensures equal representation between the country's main religious sects. The arrangement often leads to complete paralysis.

It was not clear why Salam would hint about resignation. It was unlikely that he would step down, as the move could create a total political vacuum and plunge Lebanon into chaos.

By Sunday afternoon, thousands of protesters chanting "revolution" massed near the government building, demanding that Salam resign immediately.

"The people want to topple the regime!" protesters cried out, a slogan used during the Arab Spring protests that swept through the region. Waving Lebanese flags and chanting, they stood in front of a ring of barbed wire that separated them from government headquarters and riot police. Two trucks with water cannons stood ready.

The mood in central Beirut was tense, one day after dozens were wounded after security forces fired rubber bullets, tear gas and water cannons on protesters.

Saturday's demonstrations were by far the largest since garbage began piling up on the streets after the capital's main landfill was closed a month ago. Bickering politicians have been unable to agree on an alternative system for waste management.

Residents in this proud Mediterranean city have resorted to burning trash on the streets and dumping garbage into valleys, rivers and near the sea, leading to warnings of a health catastrophe.

An online group calling itself "You Stink!" and other civil society groups organized the rallies, urging others to join them in a revolt against a corrupt system.

"You Stink!" issued a statement Sunday afternoon calling on Salam to resign immediately, saying, "Our patience has run out." The group called for a demonstration at 6 p.m. (1500 gmt) in front of the government headquarters.

In what appears to be an attempt to calm down protesters, Environment Minister Mohammad Machnouk said the name of the consortium that will be in charge of waste management in Beirut and Mount Lebanon will be announced on Monday, a day ahead of schedule. Machnouk's statement was carried by state-run National News Agency.

Lebanon has been without a president since May 2014. Parliament has been paralyzed and unable to meet to elect a president because of lack of quorum.

Meanwhile, in southern Lebanon, sporadic clashes continued in the Palestinian refugee camp of Ein el-Hilweh near the southern port city of Sidon between Islamists and the mainstream Fatah movement.

The fighting which began Saturday in Lebanon's largest refugee camp killed three people and wounded 20, according to Lebanese security officials.

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