A man holds a Lebanese flag during an anti-government rally near parliament in Beirut on September 9, 2015
A man holds a Lebanese flag during an anti-government rally near parliament in Beirut on September 9, 2015 © Joseph Eid - AFP
A man holds a Lebanese flag during an anti-government rally near  parliament in Beirut on September 9, 2015
Maya Gebeily, AFP
Last updated: January 1, 1970

Fresh protests as Lebanon parties meet to end gridlock

Lebanese protesters angered by crumbling infrastructure and political paralysis returned to Beirut's streets Wednesday as party leaders failed to achieve results in talks on ending the gridlock.

Hundreds of people gathered in central Beirut to denounce Lebanon's stagnant political system that has become the target of demonstrations that started over a trash crisis.

Representatives of Lebanon's main parties met earlier for talks intended to discuss divisions that have left the country without a president and its cabinet too paralysed to take decisions.

But the meeting ended with no concrete results and a simple announcement that a new session would be held on September 16.

"The participants expressed their points of view... about the main topic, which is the election of a president," a parliamentary statement said.

In the streets, demonstrators said they had never expected results from the talks, which they painted as a bid to avoid making real decisions.

"We did not expect results. From dialogue to dialogue, they are just lying to us," said Mustapha Awali, a 21-year-old student, referring to a series of fruitless political dialogues held between parties over the past decade.

"You have failed at everything, go home," read balloons hung by protesters on barbed wire near the parliament.

As night fell, more protesters converged on downtown Beirut's Martyrs Square, despite a regional sandstorm that has blanketed the country in dust and killed three people.

- 'Dialogue is a lie' -

"This dialogue is a lie to the people," said Tarek Al-Maleh, an activist with "You Stink".

"They've besieged us as though we were in a military barracks and confined us to a single area, but we are here to stay," he said.

Samer Mazeh, a 23-year-old student, ridiculed the political dialogue.

"The dialogue only aims... to circumvent us," he told AFP.

"The trash crisis can be solved and there are many options available to countries around the world, but they don't want a solution because trash is a goldmine for them."

Protester Sasha Diya was equally skeptical about an extraordinary cabinet session being convened by Prime Minister Tamam Salam on Wednesday night.

"The government will meet today to talk about their summer holidays," she said scornfully.

"What we are asking for are basics: water, electricity, social services."

Lebanon's protest movement began in mid-July as pungent garbage piled up in Beirut and its environs after the closure of the country's largest landfill.

But it has since grown to incorporate frustrations that cut across sectarian and partisan lines, including over electricity and water shortages, and endemic political corruption and stagnation.

- Divided political system -

Lebanon's political system is deeply divided between two main blocs.

One is led by the Shiite Hezbollah movement that is allied with Syria and backed by Iran, and the other is headed by Sunni former prime Saad Hariri, who is supported by Saudi Arabia and the West.

Exacerbating the situation, they support opposing sides in the war in neighbouring Syria, Lebanon's former kingmaker which ended a three-decade military deployment in the country in 2005.

The cabinet, formed in early 2014, has been paralysed by rivalries, and divisions in parliament have kept it from electing a president despite more than two dozen attempts.

The legislature has, however, extended its own mandate twice since the last elections in 2009.

Parliament speaker Nabih Berri presented his call for dialogue as a bid to jump-start these institutions and Wednesday's session was intended to focus specifically on the presidency.

But even before the talks began, leading political figures were warning of failure.

"This government is not able to respond to the demands of the Lebanese," said Sami Gemayel, head of the Christian party Kataeb party, which is part of Hariri's "March 14" alliance.

Michel Aoun, head of the Free Patriotic Movement that is Hezbollah's main Christian ally, said it would be a "total failure" if leading figures did not reach an agreement Wednesday.

According to media reports, a ministerial commission has a plan for the waste crisis that includes transferring garbage management responsibilities to municipalities and establishing temporary landfills.

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