Beirut Port Blast: Lebanese call for an uprising Info minister resigns | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, August 10, 2020 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:00 AM, August 10, 2020

Beirut Port Blast: Lebanese call for an uprising Info minister resigns

Some Lebanese yesterday called for a sustained uprising to topple their leaders amid public fury over this week's devastating explosion in Beirut, and the country's top Christian Maronite cleric said the cabinet should resign.

Protesters have called on the government to quit over what they say was negligence that led to Tuesday's explosion. Anger boiled over into violent scenes in central Beirut on Saturday.

Information Minister Manal Abdel Samad yesterday said she was resigning, citing the explosion and the failure of the government to carry out reforms.

Christian Maronite Patriarch Bechara Boutros al-Rai said the cabinet should resign as it cannot "change the way it governs".

"The resignation of an MP or a minister is not enough ... the whole government should resign as it is unable to help the country recover," he said in his Sunday sermon.

Saturday's protests were the biggest since October when thousands of people took to the streets to demand an end to corruption, bad governance and mismanagement.

About 10,000 people gathered at Martyrs' Square, which was transformed into a battle zone in the evening between police and protesters who tried to break down a barrier along a road leading to parliament. Some demonstrators stormed government ministries and the Association of Lebanese Banks.

People defied dozens of teargas canisters fired at them and hurled stones and firecrackers at riot police, some of whom were carried away to ambulances. One policeman was killed and the Red Cross said more than 170 people were injured.

"The police fired at me. But that won't stop us from demonstrating until we change the government from top to bottom," Younis Flayti, 55, a retired army officer, said yesterday.

Nearby, mechanic Sabir Jamali sat beside a noose attached to a wooden frame in Martyrs' Square, intended as a symbolic warning to Lebanese leaders to resign or face hanging.

"Every leader who oppresses us should be hanged," he said, adding he will protest again.

Soldiers in vehicles mounted with machineguns were stationed beside the square yesterday.

Tuesday's catastrophic explosion killed 158 people and injured more than 6,000, destroying parts of the city. Lebanon's debt-laden economy was already mired in crisis and reeling from the coronavirus pandemic before the port explosion.

"People should sleep in the streets and demonstrate against the government until it falls," said lawyer Maya Habli, as she surveyed the demolished port where the blast erupted.

The prime minister and presidency have said 2,750 tonnes of highly explosive ammonium nitrate, which is used in making fertilisers and bombs, had been stored for six years without safety measures at the port warehouse.

The government has said it will hold those responsible to account.

In opening remarks to an online donor conference he co-organised, French President Emmanuel Macron yesterday said the international response should be coordinated by the United Nations in Lebanon.

But foreign governments are wary about writing blank cheques to a government perceived by its own people to be deeply corrupt and some are concerned about the influence of Iran through the shia group Hezbollah.

"Despite differences in view, everyone must come to the help of Lebanon and its people," Macron said via video-link from his summer retreat on the French Riviera. "Our task today is to act swiftly and efficiently."

The president said the offer of assistance included support for an impartial, credible and independent inquiry into the Aug. 4 blast.

The explosion gutted entire neighbourhoods, leaving 250,000 people homeless, razing businesses and destroying critical grain supplies.

Rebuilding Beirut will likely run into the billions of dollars. Economists forecast the blast could wipe up to 25% off of the country's GDP.

 

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