Fri, 25 Sep 2020

Lebanese Ministers, Lawmakers Resign Following Beirut Blast

Voice of America
10 Aug 2020, 22:35 GMT+10

Lebanon's justice minister, Marie-Claude Najm, has resigned, the third minister to leave the cabinet since last week's massive explosion in Beirut.

Environment Minister Demanios Kattar resigned late Sunday, calling the government "flaccid and sterile." Information Minister Manal Abdel-Samad resigned earlier Sunday.

Several other ministers are also reported to be considering stepping down.

A Cabinet meeting is scheduled for Monday.

Meanwhile, at least eight lawmakers have announced they are resigning from Parliament which is set to convene later this week.

World leaders pledged Sunday nearly $300 million (253 million euros) to Lebanon to help it recover from the explosion in Beirut.

More than 30 leaders, meeting by teleconference at the behest of French President Emmanuel Macron, said the "assistance should be timely, sufficient and consistent with the needs of the Lebanese people ... and directly delivered to the Lebanese population, with utmost efficiency and transparency."

The money would not be tied to political or institutional reform, Macron's office said. However, pledges were also made for longer-term support that would depend on changes brought in by the authorities, the Elysee Palace said.

The world powers insisted on transparency in how the aid is spent, wary of sending assistance to a government that many Lebanese view as corrupt and also voicing concern about the influence of Iran through the Shi'ite group Hezbollah.

Macron, who visited Beirut on Thursday, said at the opening of the video link that participating nations needed to put aside their differences to support the Lebanese people and that aid should be coordinated by the United Nations.

"Our role is to be by their side," Macron said from his summer retreat on the French Riviera.

The world leaders, including U.S. President Donald Trump, called for an impartial, credible and independent inquiry into the blast that killed at least 158 people and injured about 6,000 others. Some angry Lebanese have called for a revolt to overthrow their political leaders.

The White House said Trump "called for calm in Lebanon and acknowledged the legitimate calls of peaceful protesters for transparency, reform and accountability."

Aside from the pledge of new assistance, the U.S, at Trump's direction, has delivered emergency aid to Lebanon, starting with food, water, and medical supplies. Initially it has pledged more than $17 million in disaster aid for the country.

The massive explosion wiped out entire neighborhoods, leaving 250,000 people homeless, destroying businesses and critical grain supplies.

The rebuilding of Beirut could cost billions of dollars. Economists have forecast the damage could erase up to 25% of the country's economic output.

The explosion was blamed on a huge store of ammonium nitrate, But Lebanese protesters held the country's political elite accountable, with demonstrations erupting both Saturday and Sunday.

Lebanese security forces fired tear gas Saturday at thousands of demonstrators who gathered in Beirut's main square to protest the government's management of the explosion. 

At the beginning of a planned protest, a small group of men started throwing stones at security forces as they tried to jump over barriers blocking entry to the parliament building. Police responded by firing tear gas at the protesters. 

A police spokesman said an officer was killed during scuffles. A police officer at the scene said that the officer died after falling down an elevator shaft when he was chased by protesters into a building in the area.   

The demonstrators also stormed the Foreign Ministry building while others in Martyrs Square set up symbolic nooses for politicians and chanted, "The people want the fall of the regime."   

The protesters later set fire to a truck that was reinforcing barriers on a street leading to the parliament building.    

The Lebanese Red Cross said more than a dozen protesters were hospitalized and scores of others received medical treatment on the scene. 

The protest, the first significant demonstration since the explosion, occurred amid mounting anger at Lebanon's political leadership. 

The country's leaders have been accused of widespread corruption and incompetence that contributed to Tuesday's devastating explosion.  

Prime Minister Hassan Diab said Friday he will draft legislation calling for early elections and is willing to remain in the position for two months to allow political leaders time to implement structural reforms. 

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