Protesters block main roads in Lebanon rubbish crisis

Demonstrators blocked Lebanon’s main Mediterranean coastal highway on Sunday to protest against a rubbish collection problem in the capital Beirut that led the prime minister to threaten to resign.

The havoc disrupted tens of thousands of weekenders and residents leaving Beirut for resorts and mountain villages, and also cut off inhabitants of southern towns heading back to the city.

Residents from areas south of Beirut were protesting againt a plan to dump rubbish from Beirut — home to more than half of Lebanon’s population — at sites around the country.

The plan was drawn up on Saturday by politicians divided by local and regional conflicts. But Interior Minister Nihad al Machnouk said no agreement on dumping rubbish outside Beirut would be reached without the consent of local residents.

The failure to resolve the crisis had brought a threat of resignation by Prime Minister Taman Salam, who heads a government of national unity that maintains a semblence of central authority and contains sectarian tensions.

Garbage has piled up in the streets, festering in the summer heat after the failure to agree to other locations following the closure of a big landfill site last week.

Several protests took place in Beirut’s main commercial centre and near the seat of government, with protesters burning hundreds of trash bins.

The crisis echoes wider problems facing Lebanon.

The weak state has long been criticised for failing to develop the country and its infrastructure. Beirut still suffers daily power cuts 25 years after the end of the 1975-1990 civil war.

But government has been particularly poor since the eruption of the war in neighbouring Syria. That conflict has exacerbated Lebanon’s political divisions, often along sectarian lines that reflect the Syrian conflict.

The presidency has been vacant for more than a year, and the parliament elected in 2009 has extended its own term and postponed elections until 2017 on the grounds of instability