Lebanese minister: Russian military Mediterranean drills end, Beirut to resume flight routes

BEIRUT – Russia has wrapped up military drills that disrupted air traffic in and out of Beirut, allowing flights to resume on their normal routes, Lebanon’s transportation minister said Sunday.

The state-run National News Agency quoted the minister, Ghazi Zeaiter, as saying that Russia informed Lebanon that the aerial exercises over the Mediterranean were complete.

Russia began the drills on Friday. Although flights continued in and out of Beirut, carriers had to take different routes that avoid flying over Syria’s waters, and some airlines cancelled flights.

Russia has been carrying out airstrikes in neighbouring Syria and has intensified those strikes in recent days after confirmation that a bomb brought down a Russian plane over Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, killing all 224 people on board.

The Islamic State group claimed responsibility for the attack.

Meanwhile in Beirut, thousands of people marched through the streets to mark Independence Day, which comes this year amid anti-government protests and a vacancy in the president’s post. Since May 2014, when President Michel Suleiman stepped down after his six-year-term ended, Lebanon has been without a head of state as bickering lawmakers repeatedly fail to agree on a consensus president.

The country has been in the grip of a months-long trash crisis that started in July when the government shut down the city’s main landfill without finding an alternative. The crisis ignited mass protests against the government, which has failed to provide a number of basic services and is widely seen as corrupt and dysfunctional.

“The occupiers have left the country but the main problem is that we are still exploited by a political class that considers this country its company and splits its wealth,” said activist Wadih Asmar in downtown Beirut. “It has been four months and trash is still in the streets.”

In another protest, scores of members of the right-wing Christian Phalange party carried a massive chair on a pickup truck in protest over the vacuum in the president’s post, the only one held by a Christian in the Arab world.

“The republic needs a head,” a banner read.