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A Trash Crisis In Lebanon Could Topple What Little Government There Is

Angry demonstrators protested on Saturday and Sunday, furious over the dysfunctional government's inability to handle trash collection — or really anything else, for that matter.

Last updated on August 23, 2015, at 3:53 p.m. ET

Posted on August 23, 2015, at 12:55 p.m. ET

Jamal Saidi / Reuters

For the second day in a row, protesters took to the streets of the Lebanese capital, Beirut, on Sunday, furious over officials' inability to collect trash from the street — a scandal that's become a pungent symbol of a gridlocked and impotent government.

On Saturday, riot police deployed water cannon, tear gas, and rubber bullets against the crowd of demonstrators, the BBC reported, with gunfire heard late into the night.

Images and videos uploaded to social media on Sunday also showed police deploying tear gas to disperse the crowds.

ACAB forever. #YouStink #طلعت_ريحتكم #البوليسية_كلاب

The protesters had gathered to call for the government to resign over a prolonged garbage crisis in the city, which saw mounds of trash pile up last month amid a political stalemate over the city dump.

Jamal Saidi / Reuters

Bickering among competing religious and sectarian power bases in Lebanon has crippled the government and left the parliament effectively unable to function. Lawmakers have not even been able to agree on who should serve as president after Michel Suleiman’s term ended in May 2014.

In a press conference Sunday, Prime Minister Tammam Salam criticized the police for their heavy-handed response to Saturday's demonstrations. He said the Lebanese constitution guaranteed citizens the right to protest, and vowed to take action against police who used excessive force.

However, in comments translated by Bloomberg, he warned that the garbage crisis was emblematic of bigger, more potentially devastating troubles facing the government.

Prime Minister Tammam Salam speaking Sunday.
Mohamed Azakir / Reuters

Prime Minister Tammam Salam speaking Sunday.

“The garbage crisis is what broke the camel’s back, but the story is much bigger than this,” the prime minister told reporters.

“Did you know that because of the failure to take decisions, we may not be able to pay the salaries of a large number of public sector employees?”

The prime minister threatened to resign should the political stalemate continue, Reuters reported.

"I warn that we are going are going towards collapse if matters continue," Salam said.

"Frankly, I have not and will not be a partner in this collapse. Let all officials and political forces bear their responsibilities."

However, as Reuters reported, Salam's resignation could plunge Lebanon even further into political uncertainty, since the constitution dictates the president would normally pick his replacement — something that would prove difficult given the country is without one.