Amid public anger over Tuesday’s blast, Lebanon PM to introduce bill proposing early polls
In a televised speech Friday, Prime Minister Hassan Diab called on all political parties to put their disagreements aside and work together.Updated: Aug 09, 2020 03:15 IST
Lebanon’s prime minister says he will introduce a draft bill proposing early elections for the crisis-stricken country.
In a televised speech Friday, Prime Minister Hassan Diab called on all political parties to put their disagreements aside and work together.
He said he is ready to stay in the post for two months to allow for politicians to work together on implementing structural reforms.
Security forces fired tear gas and clashed with stone-throwing demonstrators Saturday in Lebanon’s capital amid mounting fury over the massive explosion that devastated much of the city and killed nearly 160 people. Dozens were still missing and around 5,000 people injured.
Activists who called for the protest set up symbolic nooses at Beirut’s Martyrs’ Square to hang politicians whose corruption and negligence they blame for Tuesday’s blast.
The explosion was fuelled by thousands of tons of ammonium nitrate that had been improperly stored at the city’s port for more than six years. Apparently set off by a fire, it was by far the biggest blast in Lebanon’s troubled history and caused an estimated $10 billion to 15 billion in damage, according to Beirut’s governor. It also destroyed 6,200 buildings and left hundreds of thousands of people homeless.
“Resignation or hang,” read a banner held by protesters, who also planned to hold a symbolic funeral for the dead.
Khodr Ghadir, 23, said the noose was for everyone who has been in power for the last 30 years. “What happened was a spark for people to return to the streets.” A placard listed the names of the dead, printed over a photo of the blast’s enormous pink mushroom cloud. “We are here for you,” it read.
As the protest got underway, small groups of young men began throwing stones at security forces. Near parliament, riot police fired tear gas at protesters who tried to jump over barriers that closed the road leading to the legislature. The protesters later set on fire a truck that was fortifying barriers on a road leading to parliament. At least four people were hurt in the clashes, according to the Red Cross.
The gathering at Martyrs’ Square and outside the parliament building and government headquarters came amid popular anger against Lebanon’s political leadership. The country’s ruling class, made up mostly of former civil war-era leaders, is blamed for incompetence and mismanagement that contributed to Tuesday’s explosion.
The staggering devastation came on top of an economic and financial crisis that has led to the collapse of the Lebanese currency against the dollar, hyperinflation and soaring poverty and unemployment.
The state, which is investigating the cause of the explosion, has been conspicuously absent from the ravaged streets of Beirut, with almost zero involvement in the cleanup, which has been left to teams of young volunteers with brooms who fanned out to sweep up broken glass and reopen roads.
The protest came as senior officials from the Middle East and Europe arrived in a show of solidarity with the tiny country that is still in shock.
In a show of anger, the president of the Christian opposition Kataeb party said its three legislators have decided to resign from Parliament over the disaster. Sami Gemayel called on every “honorable” member of parliament to step down and work for the “birth of a new Lebanon.” A senior Kataeb party official was killed in the blast. Also killed were 43 Syrians, the country’s embassy in Beirut said. Lebanon is home to some 1 million Syrian refugees.
The Dutch foreign ministry said Saturday that Hedwig Waltmans-Molier, the wife of the Netherlands’ ambassador to Lebanon, had also died from injuries suffered in the explosion.
Documents that surfaced after the blast showed that officials had been repeatedly warned for years that the presence of 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate at the port posed a grave danger, but no one acted to remove it. Officials have been blaming one another, and 19 people have been detained, including the port’s chief, the head of Lebanon’s customs department and his predecessor.
“We will support Lebanon through all available means,” Ahmed Aboul Gheit, the secretary-general of the 22-member Arab League told reporters after meeting President Michel Aoun on Saturday morning. Aboul Gheit said he would take part in a donors conference for Lebanon in France on Sunday and convey Lebanon’s demands to the international community.