Disasters & Accidents

Lebanese PM urges early elections; policeman killed in protests over blast

Beirut, Aug 8 (efe-epa).- Early elections represent the only way forward for Lebanon, Prime Minister Hassan Diab said Saturday as thousands took to the streets of Beirut in protests over the explosion earlier this week that killed 158 people and injured more than 6,000 others.

“I call on the parties to agree on the next step … I will propose on Monday at the Cabinet (meeting) to call early elections,” Diab said in a nationally televised address.

The premier, who took office in December, said he was ready to lead a caretaker administration for two months “as long as the structural reforms are carried out to save the country.”

“We are in the state of emergency related to the fate and the future of the country,” Diab said against the backdrop of clashes between anti-government protesters and security forces that left one police officer dead and 239 people injured.

Sixty-four of the injured required hospitalization, while the rest were treated at the scene.

“A member of the interior ministry died in the process of maintaining security while assisting detainees inside the Le Gray hotel, after being attacked by several murderous rioters, leading to his falling and dying,” Lebanon’s Internal Security Forces said on Twitter.

A group of protesters set fire to the hotel entrance.

Thousands of Lebanese took part in a “Judgment Day” protest against the ruling elite at Martyrs’ Square in Beirut, erecting mock gallows and carrying effigies of figures such as former Prime Minister Saad Hariri and Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrullah with nooses around their necks.

Security forces deployed tear gas and some protesters hurled rocks at police.

Though protesters were driven back from Parliament, they managed to occupy the buildings housing the ministers of foreign affairs, energy and environment.

The foreign ministry suffered severe damage in Tuesday’s 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.

“All those responsible for the port disaster port will answer for the tragedy,” Diab said Saturday.

“Investigating the disaster of Beirut explosion will not take long. We do not cling to the chair and we want a national solution to save the country,” he said.

Lebanon has been experiencing a severe economic and political crisis that prompted Foreign Minister Nassif Hitti to resign a day before the explosion over fears that the country was becoming a “failed state.”

“We talk and talk, but no one listens to us,” a protester told Efe.

“I come as a citizen who wants to secure his future,” another protester told Efe, carrying a white flour as a symbol of those killed in the blast.

The confirmed death toll from the explosion stands at 158, Lebanon’s health ministry said Saturday. Another 21 people are listed as missing.

Foreign dignitaries have traveled to Beirut over the past few days to show solidarity with Lebanon, including European Council President Charles Michel, Arab League Secretary-General Ahmed Abul-Gheit, Turkish Vice President Fuat Oktay and Foreign Minister Mevlüt Avusoul.

Michel met with Lebanese President Michel Aoun, Diab, and Parliament speaker Nabih Berri, state-run news agency NNA reported.

He made the trip to Beirut after joining European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen in calling on European Union members to intensify support for Lebanon in the wake of the catastrophe.

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