Thousands demonstrate in downtown Beirut braving sandstorm as cabinet approves proposal dealing with rubbish crisis.
Beirut, Lebanon – Riot police have clashed with protesters in Beirut as a meeting of Lebanese government officials failed to reach an agreement on key issues that have brought the country to a standstill.
Protesters from the “You Stink” citizens’ group said that at least 39 people were detained and several others were injured on Wednesday afternoon as police rushed the crowd, beating several people with batons.
Following the arrests, hundreds of people gathered in Riad El Solh square, demanding the release of those detained. The protest slowly dispersed later in the evening as most detainees were released.
You Stink has been protesting against government corruption and political dysfunction amid a rubbish collection crisis.
Earlier, at least 150 protesters had gathered in central Beirut, where the second round of national dialogue was taking place in a week, only to be met by security barricades blocking entrances to the area.
Several hundred security personnel were also deployed.
A family member of an activist who was arrested told Al Jazeera that the recent police action was “totally unacceptable”.
“These types of actions by the police will only lead others to become more violent,” the family member said.
“They are selecting certain individuals to arrest, and Maarouf [the detained activist] was one of the first activists involved in campaigning against government corruption.”
Lebanon has witnessed dozens of protests in the past two months that were triggered by the government’s failure to deal with a breakdown in rubbish disposal.
The main landfill for Beirut and Mount Lebanon was closed in July for overcapacity, forcing thousands of tonnes of rubbish to remain uncollected in the streets.
As a result, several grassroots civil society movements sprung up and the protests against the rubbish crisis snowballed into a larger, more encompassing movement, with thousands of residents taking to the streets to demand government accountability.
A list of demands included the resignation of the country’s Environment Minister Minister Mohammad Machnouk for mishandling the rubbish crisis, a long-term solution to the crisis, that those who used excessive force against protesters in previous protests be held to account, and that parliamentary elections be held immediately.
“We are down here today to tell the government and its officials that they cannot continue to ignore us and our demands,” Wael, one protester at the barricades, told Al Jazeera. “Don’t we have our rights? These politicians are nothing but liars and thieves. It is a shame we have gotten to this point.”
The government, for its part, has struggled to overcome its political differences in order to come up with solutions for a number of issues plaguing the country, including the uncollected rubbish, increasing power outages, water shortage and government corruption.
Lebanon has been without a president since May 2014 as parliament has failed to meet the quorum needed to elect a new one. The parliament has postponed elections and extended its own mandate twice.
The government produced a strategy last week following an emergency cabinet session tackling the rubbish issue, but it has been rejected by civil society activists, who claim it is only a partial solution and does not address the rest of their demands.
A proposal to reopen the recently closed landfill was met with more protests from residents in the area who cited it to be a health and environmental hazard, leading to its closure in the first place.
The protests have expanded to target other ministries, including electricity, interior, and finance.
On Tuesday dozens of activists attempted to storm the Ministry of Finance to demand a stop to the salaries of the 128 parliamentarians, claiming they have not been doing the work for which they are paid.
Earlier on Wednesday a judge ordered the state electricity company to cut power from the homes of government officials who have not paid their electricity bills, in an attempt to tackle corruption.