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Thousands take to Beirut streets, bolstered by ‘You Stink’ campaign

Thousands gathered in the capital city of Beirut on Saturday to demand changes to the government -- including an effort to have the garbage picked up, something that hasn’t happened in a month. For the latest on the “You Stink” campaign, as well as the mass protests happening in Lebanon, Liz Sly of the Washington Post joins Hari Sreenivasan via Skype from Beirut.

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  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    Lebanon has seen mass protests again this weekend. Thousands gathered in the capital city of Beirut yesterday to demand changes in the government, and have the garbage picked up, something that hasn't happened in a month. Protesters call their campaign You Stink.

    Lebanon is a country of 4.5 million people without a president, without legislative elections for six years, and with a government many describe as dysfunctional.

    Joining me now from Beirut is Washington Post reporter Liz Sly.

    Liz, even in setting up this interview, it's been so difficult, because you have had power outages throughout the day. It's why we're talking to you on the phone. But, besides the trash piled up outside, these power outages, water cuts, this all seems to be normal for the average Lebanese citizen.

  • LIZ SLY, The Washington Post:

    Yes, that's right.

    Basically, this summer in particular — it's been like this for a long time, but in the past few weeks, the infrastructure here seems really to have ground to a halt. It's breaking down. And people have had enough.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    And how is this dysfunction dealing with the influx of refugees that you have coming in from Syria and other places?

  • LIZ SLY:

    Well, there is a tangential connection to the influx of refugees.

    The refugees have swelled the population of Lebanon. This is a country of four million people. There are 1.1 million refugees here registered with the United Nations. The Lebanese government says there's hundreds of thousands more than that, people who are working here or coming here for whatever reason who are not registered, but that they are also fleeing the war.

    And, basically you have got between a quarter and a third of the population is now a refugee. That has put a strain on the country's infrastructure. But the core cause of this is the dysfunction of the government and the corruption that paralyzes the government, makes it unable to take decisions that are needed to be taken to move the country forward, to keep the services going, and basically to keep this country running.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    But what happens next? What is the goal of the protesters? They said that they would escalate if the government didn't respond and at least get the trash off the streets and get going.

  • LIZ SLY:

    Well, the thing is, it's all kind of rather cynical and rather sad.

    The crowds aren't that enormous. They are genuine people out there demonstrating. They genuinely hope that they can change the system by going onto the streets. But they're not that huge.

    This country is stuck in a system of sectarian politics, quotas, rivalries that give everyone, if you like, a stake in the way it's already run, and don't seem enough, if you like, to kind of really bring the kind of impetus that we saw, say, in Tahrir Square in Egypt, or even in Syria, where huge crowds tipped the country into civil war.

    At the moment, it's sort of on the fringes of the — of the wider system that most people remain locked into.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    All right, Liz Sly of The Washington Post joining us via phone from Beirut, thanks so much.

  • LIZ SLY:

    Thank you.

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