Beirut blast: Grief turns to anger | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, August 07, 2020 / LAST MODIFIED: 02:21 AM, August 07, 2020

Beirut blast: Grief turns to anger

Macron visits Lebanon to offer help, urge reform; toll rises to 137, dozens still missing

French President Emmanuel Macron visited shell-shocked Beirut yesterday, pledging support and urging change after a massive explosion devastated the Lebanese capital in a disaster that has sparked grief and fury.

"Lebanon is not alone," he tweeted on arrival before pledging Paris would coordinate international relief efforts after the colossal blast killed at least 137 people, wounded thousands and caused billions of dollars in damage.

But Macron also warned that Lebanon -- already mired in a deep economic crisis, in desperate need of a bailout and hit by political turmoil -- would "continue to sink" unless it implements urgent reforms.

Public anger is on the boil over the blast caused by a massive pile of ammonium nitrate that had for years lain in a ramshackle portside warehouse -- proof to many Lebanese of the deep rot at the core of their state system.

Macron visited Beirut's harbourside blast zone, now a wasteland of blackened ruins. As Macron inspected a devastated pharmacy, angry crowds outside vented their fury at their "terrorist" leadership, shouting "revolution" and "the people want an end to the regime!"

"Come rule us!" one man yelled at the president.

Macron told them he would urge Lebanon's leaders to accept "a new political deal" and "to change the system, to stop the division of Lebanon, to fight against corruption".

Macron's visit to the small Mediterranean country, France's Middle East protege and former colonial-era protectorate, was the first by a foreign head of state since Tuesday's unprecedented tragedy.

Two days on, Lebanon was still reeling from a blast so huge it was felt in neighbouring countries, its mushroom-shaped cloud drawing comparisons with the Hiroshima atom bomb.

The deadly explosion left dozens more missing and a staggering 5,000 people wounded, many by flying shards of glass as windows imploded.

The death toll was expected to rise as rescue workers keep digging through the rubble.

According to several officials, the explosion was caused by a fire igniting 2,750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate fertiliser stored for years in the warehouse.

Even as they counted their dead and cleaned up the streets, many Lebanese were consumed with anger over a blast they see as the most shocking expression yet of their leadership's incompetence.

"We can't bear more than this. This is it. The whole system has got to go," said 30-year-old Mohammad Suyur as he picked up broken glass in Mar Mikhail, one of the worst-hit city districts.

Prime Minister Hassan Diab and President Michel Aoun have promised to put the culprits behind bars, but trust in institutions is low and few on Beirut's streets held out hope for an impartial inquiry.

Amid the gloom and fury, the aftermath of the terrible explosion has also yielded countless uplifting examples of spontaneous solidarity.

Business owners swiftly took to social media, posting offers to repair doors, paint damaged walls or replace shattered windows for free. Lebanon's diaspora, believed to be nearly three times the tiny country's population of five million, has rushed to launch fundraisers and wire money to loved ones.

In Beirut, much of the cleanup has been handled by volunteers in improvised working groups who bring their own equipment and organise online appeals for help. "We don't have a state to take these steps, so we took matters into our own hands," " said Husam Abu Nasr, a 30-year-old volunteer.

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