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Tens of Thousands Protest in Lebanon as 'You Stink' Campaign Issues Ultimatum

Anti-government campaigners threaten to 'turn up the heat' if their demands are not met within 72 hours

  A Lebanese anti-government protester holds a placard during a demonstration in Beirut, Aug. 29, 2015. (Photo:  Hussein Malla/AP)

Proving the 'You Stink' movement in Lebanon has staying power, tens of thousands of anti-government protesters took to the streets of Beirut on Saturday with forceful chants of 'revolution, revolution!' as they demanded the resignation of key ministers and delivered an ultimatum to leaders they hold responsible for a garbage crisis that has blossomed into a populist anti-corruption wave.

The Daily Star in Lebanon reported that at least ten people were arrested and two police officers injured during the protests which were larger, but less violent, than similar ones last week.

"This is not a protest for political parties. It is for all the Lebanese people... we are against the parties that are exploiting citizens," international theater director Lucien Bourjeily, one of the figureheads of the movement, told Agence France-Presse.

According to the Associated Press:

The government's failure to resolve the trash crisis has evolved into wider protests against a political class that has dominated Lebanon since the end of the country's civil war in 1990 and a government that has failed to provide even basic services to its people. Protesters filled up the square known as Martyrs' Square, shouting anti-government slogans in a peaceful, carnival-like atmosphere.

"Today is a step on a long road," said Fares Shoufani, a 48-year-old contractor. "We are depending on this movement. The more it advances forcefully, the more the people join."

The main group behind the protests is an activist group that calls itself "You Stink," a catchy slogan playing off the garbage crisis that addresses Lebanese politicians. The group has attracted across the board support from ordinary Lebanese fed up with the system, and angered at the festering, uncollected garbage piling up near their homes.

Organizers demanded the resignation of Environment Minister Mohammad Machnouk and that municipalities across the country take responsibility for rubbish collection. The protest movement also called for those responsible for last week's violence to be punished, singling out Interior Minister Nohad Machnouk, and demanded new legislative and presidential elections.

"We give the government 72 hours. If our demands have not been met by Tuesday night, we will turn up the heat," declared Rasha Halabi, a 'You Stink' campaigner,  during a speech at Saturday's rally.

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Demonstrators, reports Your Middle East, were upbeat.

"These protests have given us hope. We were here last weekend, but today is much bigger," said Patrick Manolli, whose beaming wife carried a huge Lebanese flag. 

"We are here to protest because the country has all become garbage," said Tamer, a young boy carried aloft on a relative's shoulders.

Reporting for the Middle East Eye, correspondent Martin Armstrong offered additional background:

Speaking at a press conference on Friday, Assaad Thebian, a co-founder and spokesman for the You Stink Campaign, the main organiser of current protests, unveiled the group’s manifesto.

The campaign’s demands include establishing accountability for the security forces’ excessive use of violence against protestors from Lebanon’s Interior Minister Nouhad Mashnouq, the resignation of Lebanon’s environment minister, and that parliamentary elections be held as soon as possible.

Despite fears of a repeat of last weekend Saturday’s demonstrations passed without major incident. Activists blared chants over loudspeakers calling on citizens to take to the streets, while signs carried by protestors, occasionally fixed on the ends of 4.5 metre fishing rods, expressed sentiments including “sectarian (political) parties do not represent the nation” and “we are not ISIS”.

Small-scale protests in solidarity with the You Stink movement took place simultaneously in numerous cities with Lebanese expatriate communities including New York, Washington DC, Paris and London.

Following demostrations last weekend that turned violent when riot police stormed lines of protesters, human rights groups condemned the Lebanese government for the harsh response and urged restraint on the part of security services.

"Everyone in Lebanon has the right to peaceful assembly. Lebanese officials must uphold this right and send a clear message to security personnel that such attacks against peaceful protesters will not be tolerated," said Amnesty's senior crisis advisor Lama Fakih on Saturday. Government officials and lawmakers, she continued, "must ensure prompt, independent investigations are conducted and that police and soldiers suspected of arbitrary or abusive force are brought to justice."

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