Lebanon PM announces govt. resignation amid outrage over Beirut blast


Lebanon’s Prime Minister Hassan Diab announced on Monday, Aug. 10, the resignation of his government in the wake of the catastrophic explosion in Beirut that has triggered public outrage.

Diab said in his televised address, the blast was the result of endemic corruption and backed calls by ordinary Lebanese for those responsible for “this crime” to be put on trial.

The Aug 04 port warehouse detonation of more than 2,000 tonnes of ammonium nitrate killed at least 163 people, injured more than 6,000 and destroyed swathes of the bustling Mediterranean capital, compounding months of political and economic meltdown.

With his resignation, Diab’s government assumes a caretaker role until a new administration can be formed.

The cabinet, formed in January with the backing of the powerful Iranian-backed Hezbollah group and its allies, met on Monday, with many ministers wanting to resign, according to ministerial and political sources.

The information and environment ministers have already quit on Sunday, as well as several lawmakers. The justice minister resigned on Monday, citing the catastrophic explosion.

“The entire regime needs to change. It will make no difference if there is a new government,” Joe Haddad, an engineer, told Reuters. “We need quick elections.”

Diab said on Saturday he would request early parliamentary elections.

Six days after the enormous chemical blast, which wreaked destruction across swathes of the capital and was felt as far away as the island of Cyprus, residents and volunteers were still clearing the debris off the streets.

International rescue teams with sniffer dogs and specialised equipment remained at work at the disaster’s fire-charred “ground zero”, where the search was now for bodies and not survivors.

The Lebanese want heads to roll over the tragedy and are asking how a massive stockpile of volatile ammonium nitrate, a compound used primarily as a fertiliser, was left unsecured at the port for years.

The country’s top officials have promised a swift and thorough investigation – but they have stopped short of agreeing to an independent probe led by foreign experts.

Environment Minister Damianos Kattar criticised the “sterile regime” when he announced his resignation on Sunday, hours after Information Minister Manal Abdel Samad became the first to quit.

At least nine lawmakers have also announced they would step down in protest, as have two senior members of the Beirut municipality.

The blast, which drew comparisons with the Hiroshima atom bomb, was so enormous that it altered the shape of not only of Beirut’s skyline but even of its Mediterranean coastline.

But it remained to be seen whether the disaster will also have a lasting impact on Lebanon’s political landscape, whose masters were widely seen as being primarily bent on self-preservation and buck-passing.

The prime minister gave a short televised address on Saturday evening to suggest early elections, but protesters were utterly unconvinced and ransacked several ministries even as he spoke.

During a second evening of protests on Sunday, the rage sparked by the explosion that disfigured Beirut and scarred so many of its residents had not relented, and violent street clashes flared again.

“The resignation of ministers is not enough. Those who are responsible for the explosion should be held accountable,” said Michelle, a demonstrator in her early twenties.

She carried a poster of a friend who was killed in the explosion, inscribed with the message “My government killed me”. (Source: CNA)