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Lebanon government stands down over blast fallout

Lebanon Government Stands Down Over Blast Fallout

BEIRUT – Lebanese Prime Minister Hassan Diab announced the resignation of his government on August 10 under a barrage of pressure over the catastrophic explosion in the port of Beirut six days earlier which reignited angry street protests.
“I am announcing the resignation of the government,” Diab said at the end of a televised speech in which he attempted to portray himself as a victim of a corrupt political elite as well.
The announcement was greeted with car horns on the streets and festive fires in the northern city, but it was unlikely to meet the long-term expectations of the Lebanese.
Even as Diab spoke, security forces in central Beirut clashed for a third night with protesters calling for an end to an entrenched political system widely seen as inept, corrupt and dominated by sectarian interests and family dynasties.
According to the health ministry, at least 160 people were killed in Lebanon’s worst peacetime disaster, 6,000 injured and around 20 remain missing after the August 4 disaster blamed on official negligence.
Almost a week after the massive chemical explosion that destroyed swathes of the capital and was felt as far away as Cyprus, residents and volunteers were still removing debris from the streets on August 10.
Senior officials promised a swift and thorough investigation – but stopped short of agreeing to an independent investigation by foreign experts as demanded by protesters.
The outgoing government must now remain interim, and new elections could still be months away.
Prior to Diab’s announcement, four ministers had already decided they could no longer serve a government unwilling to take the blame or put state resources at the service of victims.
At least nine lawmakers have also announced they will resign in protest, as have two senior Beirut municipality officials.
The explosion, which drew comparisons to an atomic bomb, was so huge that it changed the shape of not only Beirut culture, whose masters are widely seen as determined to preserve and let go.
But it remains to be seen whether the disaster will also have a lasting impact on the political culture rooted in post-war Lebanon.
Diab on August 10 blamed the explosion on the corruption of former warlords from the 1975-1990 civil war who traded their military fatigues for costumes or were replaced by relatives.
“Their corruption created this tragedy,” Diab said. “Between us and change stands a thick wall protected by their dirty tactics.”
During consecutive evenings of demonstrations, the rage unleashed by the explosion that disfigured Beirut and marked so many of its inhabitants had not subsided.
“The resignation of ministers is not enough. Those responsible for the explosion should be held accountable,” Michelle, a protester in her early twenties, said on the evening of August 9.
Protesters said security forces used tear gas against blast victims instead of helping them clean up their destroyed homes and find shelter.
“We need an international investigation and trial to tell us who killed our friends and all the other victims,” Michelle said.
France, whose President Emmanuel Macron visited Beirut after the explosion, called for the “rapid formation” of a new government.
“The aspirations expressed by the Lebanese in terms of reforms and governance must be heard,” said French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, adding that a new government should “prove itself” to the people.
Macron backed the idea during his visit last Thursday, but his calls for reform and transparency appeared to receive less attention from Lebanese authorities than his offer to raise aid funds.
An online emergency support conference chaired by Macron on Sunday, attended by virtually a large number of world leaders, including US President Donald Trump, made pledges of more than 250 million euros.
(Sahar News Monitoring Desk)

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