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Lebanon protests: environment minister backs down, politicians urge 'dialogue'

Lebanese politicians are scrambling to contain the snowballing anti-government You Stink protest movement [Bilal Jawich/Anadolu/Getty]

Date of publication: 31 August, 2015

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In response to growing anti-government protests in Lebanon triggered by a garbage collection crisis, the environment minister has pulled out from a governmental waste committeem, but stopped short of resigning

On Monday, Lebanese Environment Minister Mohammad Machnouk said he has withdrawn from a ministerial committee tasked with tackling Lebanon's ongoing waste crisis.

In a statement released by his press office, Machnouk said he has officially informed Prime Minister Tammam Salam of his decision.

The minister cited the failure to make any progress on finding the solution to the deteriorating environmental situation, the failure to approve waste management tenders and the politicians' failure to locate new sanitary landfills as the reasons for his move.

Machnouk said he urged Salam to appoint in his place on the committee whomever he deems adequate, stressing his ministry was ready to cooperate and carry out its duties as needed in order to reach a swift solution to the waste crisis.
Machnouk's resignation is a key demand for #YouStink, for 'mishandling' the waste crisis

Machnouk's resignation is a key demand for the protests that have swept Beirut under the You Stink movement, for his alleged mishandling of the waste crisis.

On Saturday, thousands had rallied in the capital to demand reform, accountability and the resumption of the democratic process in Lebanon, following which the organisers gave the Lebanese government a 72-hour ultimatum to comply with the demands, threatening to escalate the protests.

However, the minister said shortly after the protests that he would not give up his duties during the "delicate stage" the country is currently witnessing.

Dialogue to contain protests

In another sign Lebanon's political class are trying to heed - or contain - some of the protesters' demands, long-time parliament Speaker Nabih Berri made an official call for dialogue to be held in September between the country's leaders on Sunday, in a bid to end the presidential deadlock and the wider political crisis.

Berri, leader of the Shia Amal movement and a major ally of Hizballah, said the "all-inclusive dialogue" would be similar to previous rounds held in parliament in 2006.
Berri made an official call for dialogue to be held in September between the country's leaders

The call was made during a political rally to mark the 37th anniversary of the disappearance of Amal founder Imam Musa al-Sadr, widely blamed on the regime of Muammar Gaddafi in Libya.

Berri's call was quickly welcomed by former Prime Minister Saad Hariri, leader of the country's largest Sunni faction, as well as Druze MP Walid Jumblatt's Progressive Socialist Party and the Maronite Christian Marada Movement of Sleiman Frangieh.

Other political parties also welcomed the move, but said they would give their official answer later this week.

The last National Dialogue session was held in May 2014. The National Dialogue framework brings together the top leaders of the country's rival factions to resolve differences on major national issues, such as armaments in the hands of non-state militias, electoral law and foreign policy - issues that are difficult to address amid the paralysis plaguing parliament and the cabinet.

However, previous dialogue have largely been unsuccessful, and did little more than delay resolution of the issues that were discussed.

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