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Beirut’s You Stink protesters call for fall of Lebanese government

Clashes intensify as protests sparked by garbage problem widen scope; prime minister calls emergency parliament session

New clashes between anti-government demonstrators and Lebanese police left at least 20 people injured in the capital Beirut on Sunday, as protests — which started amid outrage over officials’ failure to collect garbage in Beirut — raged for a second day in an intensifying political crisis that the prime minister said could see the government dissolved. 

Footage from the scene showed ambulances ferrying out casualties after security forces fired tear gas, rubber bullets and water cannons at demonstrators protesting what they call Lebanon's overall political dysfunction.

Among the thousands of protesters, about 200 youths, some wearing scarves or masks over their faces, threw stones and bottles filled with sand at police and tried to pull down security barricades. Some of those injured suffered smoke inhalation, and at least 13 were hospitalized, according to the Lebanese Red Cross.

Protesters camped overnight in the capital's Riad al-Solh Square to wait for Prime Minister Tammam Salam's response to police violence at protests the day before.

In a televised address on Sunday morning, Salam said members of the security forces would be held accountable for the violence against protesters. He also called on an emergency parliament session on Thursday to deal with the country's political crisis.

"I have been, like many other fellow Lebanese, patient enough, but yesterday's outcry should not be ignored," he said. "I was never in this for a position in government. I am one of you. I am with the people. Do not pit this conflict [as] one camp against the other. Target all the politicians."

Angered by Salam's speech, a number of the protesters chanted, "The people want the fall of the regime."

Tensions in Lebanon have peaked after recent protests over the government's inability to ensure that garbage is disposed of effectively. Last month the country was left with mounting piles of trash 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 garbage was finally cleared, but bickering within the government over which company would get the new contract has exposed it to allegations of corruption from opponents.

Salam said on Sunday that if legislators could not reach an agreement on the trash crisis on Thursday, there is a possibility the government will be dissolved. "If the meeting is not productive, there is no need for the council of ministers altogether," he said.

The online group You Stink and other civil society groups organized this weekend's protests, calling on Lebanese people to join them in a revolt against what they called a corrupt system.

Azza el-Masri, a member of the You Stink, told Al Jazeera that protesters are not backing down and that the demonstrations will continue. "We want Tammam Salam and all the political class to resign. When people were chanting that they wanted to topple the regime yesterday, they were serious. We want to topple [the government], and we won't stop until we do," Masri said.

"You Reek or You Stink [protesters] have vowed to stay at Riad al-Solh until the minister of environment resigns, until those who were randomly arrested are freed, and until the riot police are held accountable for the violence," Masri added. 

Joey Ayoub, a You Stink organizer who was at the protests on Saturday and Sunday, said protesters were met with police brutality, tear gas canisters and water cannons. "As one of those who helped organize this protest, I can safely tell you that the government’s reaction was beyond anything we were expecting," he said.

The Lebanese Red Cross said at least 15 civilians and 35 officers were injured during the protests on Saturday.

With Agence France-Presse

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