Disasters & Accidents

Resignations, more protests in aftermath of Beirut explosion

Beirut, Aug 9 (efe-epa).- Two Lebanese government ministers stepped down on Sunday and thousands of anti-government protesters took to the streets in central Beirut for the second consecutive day in the aftermath of the port explosion that killed 158 people and injured more than 6,000.

Environment Minister Damianos Kattar became the most recent political victim of the blast, joining Information Minister Manal Abdel-Samad, who resigned earlier in the day.

Katter said in a statement that his decision was made in solidarity with the victims and because “the horizon of solutions blocked is by the impact of futile tensions under the mechanisms of a sterile and flabby system that missed many opportunities.”

Along similar lines, Abdel-Samad also had announced her resignation earlier in the day.

Abdel-Samad became the first minister to resign after the blast, saying “I apologize to the Lebanese people whose aspiration we were not able to satisfy.”

“The change became inaccessible and since the reality did not match the ambition and following the impact of the Beirut port, I tender my resignation from the government,” she said in her statement.

The blast, which left between 200,000 and 250,000 people homeless, was caused when nearly 3,000 tons of ammonium nitrate blew up after being unsafely stored at Beirut’s port for six years.

Thousands of people outraged over the blast, and who also blame the government for the country’s ongoing economic crisis, took to the streets in central Beirut, mainly at Martyrs’ Square.

Violence erupted near the Parliament building, where protesters threw stones at the security forces, who responded by deploying tear gas to disperse the crowds.

The Lebanese Interior Security Forces on Twitter warned the protesters that they would not tolerate violence against its personnel.

Five days after the blast, the Lebanese army announced the conclusion of the first phase of the search and rescue operation during which no survivors found under and amid the rubble by local or international teams.

The chief of the engineering battalion of the Lebanese army, Rojeh Khoury, said that after three days of search operations “the hope of finding people alive has diminished.”

However, he added at a press conference that work continues to recover bodies from under the rubble.

“The teams that were looking for people alive believe that their work is finished,” he said.

In the meantime, French President Emmanuel Macron on Sunday urged Lebanese authorities to conduct an independent investigation into the blast, his remarks coming during his opening speech to a virtual donor conference co-organized by France and the United Nations to support Beirut.

“This offer of help also includes support for an impartial, credible and independent investigation into the causes of the disaster,” the French president – the first foreign leader to visit Beirut – said during the conference.

“It is a strong and legitimate request from the Lebanese people. It is a question of trust. The means are available and must be mobilized,” he added.

During the conference, donors have pledged 252.7 million euros ($214.8 million) in urgent aid for the Lebanese people, the Elysee Palace announced.

Kristalina Georgieva, who has been selected for the post of managing director of the International Monetary Fund, took part in the conference and conditioned aid to Lebanon to the the Beirut government making reforms the international organization has been demanding for months.

“Commitment to these reforms will unlock billions of dollars for the benefit of the Lebanese people. This is the moment for the country’s policymakers to act decisively. We stand ready to help,” she added. EFE

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