Disasters & Accidents

Beirut explosion sweeps away Lebanese gov’t as protests continue

Beirut, Aug 10 (efe-epa).- As protesters clashed with security forces for the third day in a row, Lebanese Prime Minister Hassan Diab said Monday that his government was stepping down over the Beirut blast.

“I announce today the resignation of this government,” he said in a televised speech, calling for a government of national salvation.

Diab said that while he initially saw corruption as “deeply rooted in all the functions of the state,” he had “discovered that the corrupt system is bigger than the state.”

The move, which comes two days after the premier urged early elections, risks opening the way to protracted negotiations over a new Cabinet amid urgent calls for reform.

While saying that he was taking “a step back” so he could stand with the people “and fight the battle for change alongside them,” Diab acceded to President Michel Aoun’s request to stay on as leader of a caretaker administration.

Diab formed the government in December, two months after long-time Prime Minister Saad Hariri resigned amid a wave of protests against corruption and the nation’s sectarian division of power.

Some politicians, he said, “did not read well the October 17 Revolution staged by the Lebanese. That revolution was against them, but they did not understand it well.”

“We carried the Lebanese people’s demand for change,” Diab said of his administration, “But a very thick and thorny wall separates us from change: a wall fortified by a class that is resorting to all dirty methods in order to resist and preserve its gains, its positions and its ability to control the state.”

Hours before Diab addressed the nation, Justice Minister Marie-Claude Najm became the third member of the Cabinet to quit since the explosion, following Information Minister Manal Abdel Samad and Environment Minister Damianos Kattar.

The government resigned six days after a massive explosion in the port of Beirut that killed at 165 people and injured more than 6,000 others, the Health Ministry said Monday, adding that fewer than 20 people remain unaccounted for.

Few buildings were untouched by the damage and between 200,000 and 250,000 Beirutis were made homeless.

The catastrophe was caused by the detonation of 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate – a component in fertilizer and industrial explosives – that was left to sit in a warehouse at the port for six years without precautions.

Lebanese television aired images Monday of protesters in central Beirut hurling rocks and setting fires as security forces sought to disperse the crowd with tear gas.

Seven of the 45 people hurt in Monday’s clashes required hospitalization, the Lebanese Red Cross said. EFE amo-ijm/ta/dr

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