Mountains of rubbish have been piling up on the streets of Beirut, sparking a protest movement christened "You Stink". This non-political people's movement has quickly picked up supporters and expanded its demands beyond just the waste crisis, calling for the resignation of the entire government.

Residents are furious their government failed to avoid a crisis ignited by the long-scheduled closure of a major landfill site. The tip at Naameh, south of Beirut, had already been kept open well beyond its planned closure date. The date set for its final closure – 17 July – was known, but the authorities had no ready alternative when the day came.

Beirut rubbish collection you stink
A motorist drives past a burning mountain of waste       (Mohamed Azakir/Reuters)
Beirut rubbish collection you stink
A man scavenges through a mountain of waste     (Mohamed Azakir/Reuters)
Beirut rubbish collection you stink
Bags of waste dumped on an abandoned car   (Joseph Eid/AFP)
Beirut rubbish collection you stink
A man stares at uncollected bags of waste     (Joseph Eid/AFP)
Beirut rubbish collection you stink
A picture of a rat and the message "Come and taste the goodies" is stencilled above piles of rubbish in BeirutJoseph Eid/AFP
Beirut rubbish collection you stink
Plastic bags of waste festoon a building      (Anwar Amro/AFP)
Beirut rubbish collection you stink
A motorcyclist rides past bags of rubbish               (Joseph Eid/AFP)

Anger about the heaps of rubbish festering in the summer heat boiled over, as thousands took to the streets in protests against a government deemed so dysfunctional it couldn't hold elections or pick a president, much less deliver basic services.

The "You Stink" protests, which began as peaceful demonstrations, turned violent over the weekend (22-23 August). Police fired tear gas and water cannons at the protesters in running battles on the streets of Beirut. Sporadic gunfire could also be heard during the skirmishes. The two days of chaos resulted in many casualties. Protesters blamed thugs for the violence, claiming political operatives had infiltrated their demonstrations.

Beirut rubbish collection you stink
A policeman climbs into an armoured personnel carrier as fires burn around him       (AFP)
Beirut rubbish collection you stink
Police fire at a protester in another skirmish over uncollected rubbish    (Mohamed Azakir/Reuters)
Beirut rubbish collection you stink
Protesters shield themselves from police during street battles             (AFP)
Beirut rubbish collection you stink
Protesters brave the onslaught of water cannons during the street battles (Jamal Saidi/Reuters)
Beirut rubbish collection you stink
Protesters brave water cannons during the street clashes with police      (Jamal Saidi/Reuters)
Beirut rubbish collection you stink
Police clash with protesters in dramatic scenes      (Jamal Saidi/Reuters)
Beirut rubbish collection you stink
Protesters carry a wounded woman to safety       (AFP)
Beirut rubbish collection you stink
Protesters set a police motorbike on fireAFP
Beirut rubbish collection you stink
Police take aim at protesters   (AFP)
Beirut rubbish collection you stink
A woman addresses the throng of protesters      (Anwar Amro/AFP)

Prime Minister Tammam Salam threatened to resign as the public discontent brought thousands into the streets. Lebanon's government operates a power-sharing system that supposedly ensures equal representation between the country's Muslim and Christian sects. That often leads to incessant bickering and cronyism among the country's politicians.

The country has been without a president for more than a year, despite almost 30 attempts by parliament to select one.

Beirut rubbish collection you stink
A member of the security forces peeks through a concrete wall erected near the government palace in BeirutAziz Taher/Reuters
Beirut rubbish collection you stink
A protester walks past graffiti on concrete blast walls recently erected by security forces on the road leading to the government palaceAFP

The "You Stink" movement has called for another large protest on Saturday (29 August). "This movement has succeeded in reawakening the Lebanese, and we will not let them make us go to sleep again," said Marwan Maarouf, a spokesman for the group. He said the group's aim was "toppling an entire corrupt political class". Observers have likened the protests to the Arab Spring revolution that toppled dictators across the Middle East.