Hezbollah snubs govt talks as crisis deepens

Over the last week, Lebanon's government has been paralyzed as the capital Beirut was rocked with fierce street protests

Published: Updated:

The Lebanese group Hezbollah and allied Christian politicians will boycott a cabinet meeting on Thursday, deepening a political crisis that has paralysed Prime Minister Tammam Salam’s national unity government.

Media run by Hezbollah and the Free Patriotic Movement of Christian politician Michel Aoun, the Shiite group’s main Christian ally, reported that Salam had been informed of the decision, but did not immediately give a reason for it.

Over the last week, Lebanon has been rocked with fierce street protests in the capital Beirut, which have left dozens injured and the country's fragile government reeling. Demonstrators - many unaligned to specific political parties – started by showing their grievances at the inability by authorities to resolve the garbage crisis, which has seen city streets pile up with trash.

However, the protests soon flared into calls for the government – which demonstrators accuse of incompetence and corruption – to resign. In response, PM Salam hinted at stepping down.

Then on Tuesday, protests were temporarily called off by “You Stink,” the grassroots activist movement that organized the movement.

Throwing its weight

On the same day, Hezbollah threw its weight behind mass protests, with its ministers and their allies walking out of a cabinet meeting meant to discuss the worsening garbage crisis.

In recent years, Lebanon’s political scene has been pitted between the Iranian-backed Hezbollah and the country’s Western-aligned, pro-Saudi camp. Those divisions mirror the larger regional Shiite-Sunni divide, and have long paralyzed the government.

Although Salam's government has elements from both camps, Hezbollah regards the prime minister as an ally of Saudi Arabia. The Shiite group's ally, Christian leader Michel Aoun, has been assailing the prime minister over his handling of Cabinet and security appointments.

In a statement Tuesday, Hezbollah said the garbage crisis reflected the "endemic and accumulated corruption of the past two decades" and policies that only serve "personal and political interests at the expense of citizens." It said holding peaceful protests was a legitimate right.

A columnist in the daily An-Nahar newspaper accused Hezbollah of exploiting the “You Stink” movement for its own agenda.

(With Reuters)