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Demonstrators Storm Beirut, Demanding Solutions To Garbage-Collection Crisis

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In the Lebanese capital Beirut, bars and restaurants shuttered their doors tonight in solidarity with anti-government protests that have grown over the last week. NPR’s Alison Meuse reports that demonstrators are calling for nationwide protests on Tuesday if their demands over garbage collection and government corruption aren’t met.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Through megaphone) (Foreign language spoken).

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Chanting in foreign language).

ALISON MEUSE, BYLINE: That’s the sound of thousands of demonstrators marching to downtown Beirut. Lebanese protesters are giving the government 72 hours to find a sustainable solution to the garbage collection crisis. They also want accountability from the government for firing rubber bullets on demonstrators last week when hundreds were injured. The government is investigating the excessive use of force, but they haven’t solved the garbage issue. Lebanon’s main dump is beyond capacity, and uncollected trash has been piling up in people’s neighborhoods. That’s the spark that brought people to the streets demanding the government resign.

JOAAN MOURKAZEL: The only thing that the Lebanese had is hope – hope and dreams. And now they do not have it. They are dreaming about leaving the country. So that’s why we are demonstrating. We want their resignation to create a new government, a new parliament, so we can have the hope of having a new Lebanon, the Swiss of the Middle East, as it was before a long time ago.

MEUSE: That’s Joaan Mourkazel, a construction worker. He says he was beaten by police last week. But that didn’t stop him from coming today.

MOURKAZEL: Last week was smaller – Saturday, Sunday bigger – today, much bigger and tomorrow, even bigger. It will grow. It’s like a snowball.

MEUSE: Protests haven’t just become bigger. They’ve become more organized. Activists have dubbed the movement You Stink. Today, organizers marched in matching You Stink T-shirts, flanked by bikes and scooters. Police cars and ambulances followed behind.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Through megaphone).

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Chanting in foreign language).

MEUSE: People from all walks of life joined. Even pregnant women and people in wheelchairs braved the crowds. One father, Ali Dawi, had his baby boy slung around his chest. He says that bringing his baby is a statement.

ALI DAWI: Well, the money of this little boy has already been taken by this bunch of corrupt politicians. His future is in danger much more if they remain.

MEUSE: But not everyone is so sure. With the Syrian conflict raging next-door, some worry that demonstrations here could unleash sectarian violence. Khodr Sobah joined the protest with his wife and four young girls. He says he’d like things to stay peaceful, but he’s not counting on it. He points out that the politicians they’re trying to remove were born out of Lebanon’s 15-year civil war.

KHODR SOBAH: (Speaking Arabic).

MEUSE: He says “All of these politicians came to power by blood. They’re all ex-warlords, and they won’t go except by blood.” Late tonight, protesters tried to break through barricades protecting Lebanon’s government palace. Police once again used force to clear the square. Alison Meuse, NPR News, Beirut.

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