By Sylvia Westall
Dozens of protesters occupied the environment ministry in the Lebanese capital Beirut on Tuesday calling on minister Mohamad Al Machnouk to resign over a rubbish disposal crisis.
Hundreds of other protesters gathered outside the building as riot police took up positions in surrounding streets.
Interior Minister Nohad Machnouk said protesters had 30 minutes to leave, al-Jadeed and al-Manar television stations said, without saying what would happen if they did not.
Lebanon has been hit by a series of protests against the government ignited by a dispute over uncollected rubbish as well as widely perceived corruption in its sectarian political system.
A Reuters witness inside the ministry building said a few soldiers watched protesters who staged a sit-in along a corridor in the top floor.
“Machnouk – out, out, out!” protesters chanted.
Those inside said they had quietly entered in small groups before security personnel blocked the main door.
Protesters said it was not clear if the environment minister was still in the building as other members of staff locked their office doors and left.
Reuters was not able to reach the minister by telephone for comment.
“They did not fulfil our demands,” said Lucien Bourjeily of the “You Stink” movement that organised the protest.
“We were all on the streets, tens of thousands of us saying our demands. Once more they are escaping accountability. We will not take it anymore,” he said, speaking in the packed corridor.
Thousands took to the streets of Beirut in a protest on Saturday against corruption.
Similar street protests descended into violence last month and Prime Minister Tammam Salam threatened to resign, a move that could tip a state that is struggling with political deadlock and the spillover from Syria’s war into deeper turmoil.
The protesters say the rubbish crisis, which has led to piles of refuse being left festering in the summer sun, reflects the incompetence of a political system run by sectarian politicians.
The environment minister withdrew from a committee dealing with the garbage crisis on Monday but that has not mollified protesters.
“Our demands are being ignored,” protester Mohamad Najem said.
The movement wants the environment minister to step down, a solution to the trash crisis and for the government to listen to the advice of environmental experts, he said.