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Thousands Gather In Beirut For Anti-Government Protest

Thousands gather in Lebanon's capital

Protest

Thousands of people waving Lebanese national flags and banners have gathered in downtown Beirut to protest against the government.

They call for the resignation of officials responsible for the current services crisis and for new elections.

Last weekend rallies against the authorities’ inability to deal with the rubbish collection problems resulted in violent clashes with police and calls for the government to step down.

The atmosphere at todays rally was festive with families, old and young attending carrying signs, singing and shouting chants.

Reuters report: Protesters mobilized after the government failed to agree on trash disposal, leaving piles of refuse stinking in the summer sun. Protesters say the crisis reflects the rot inside Lebanon’s political system.

Similar protests descended into violence last weekend and Prime Minister Tammam Salam threatened to resign, a move that could tip the state struggling with political deadlock and spillover from Syria into deeper turmoil.

Protesters, including families and people of all ages marched, played music and sang as they protested in areas around Martyrs’ Square, the scene mass demonstrations in 2005 after the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri.

By nightfall the area took on the atmosphere of a huge street party as soldiers watched the crowds from newly-erected barricades.

“People want the downfall of the regime” chanted groups of marching protesters, employing the slogan of mass movements that shook the Arab world in 2011.

Campaigners are calling for the environment minister to resign, for snap parliamentary elections and a resolution to the garbage crisis. They want better public services in a country with daily electricity cuts and summer water shortages.

They are also frustrated with the parliament that has extended its own term until 2017. Lebanon has been without a president for more than a year and the last parliamentary polls took place in 2009.

Security forces were conspicuously out of sight on Saturday, following bouts of violence at the previous protests, according to Al Jazeera

At one point the security forces unfurled a massive banner from one of the abandoned buildings reading “we are here for your protection”, which was greeted with loud jeers from the crowd. 

Last weekend, tens of thousands of people attended two rallies which descended into violence after security forces opened fire on the protesters.

Security forces used water cannon, tear gas, live ammunition and rubber bullets, while also beating many, leaving hundreds injured over the space of two days.

Human Rights Watch has since called on the government to investigate the excessive use of violence by security forces “and refrain from repeated violence against demonstrators”.