Lebanese govt resigns amid outrage over Beirut blast

PM Diab blames explosion on endemic corruption, backs people's call for justice over crime

Lebanese anti-government protesters giving vent to their anger in an area close to Parliament in Beirut on Sunday. They were demanding an end to corruption, bad governance and mismanagement.
Lebanese anti-government protesters giving vent to their anger in an area close to Parliament in Beirut on Sunday. They were demanding an end to corruption, bad governance and mismanagement. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

BEIRUT • Lebanon's Prime Minister announced the resignation of his government yesterday, after last week's devastating explosion in Beirut that has stirred public outrage and spurred a string of ministers to step down.

The Aug 4 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.

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

In an address to the nation last night, Prime Minister Hassan Diab said the Beirut blast was the result of endemic corruption. "We are with the people in calling for trying those responsible for this crime," Mr Diab said as he announced his government's resignation.

For many ordinary Lebanese, the explosion was the last straw in a protracted crisis over the collapse of the economy, corruption, waste and dysfunctional governance, and they have taken to the streets demanding root-and-branch change.

Information Minister Manal Abdel Samad and Environment Minister Damianos Kattar quit on Sunday, as well as several lawmakers. Justice Minister Marie Claude Najem followed them out the door yesterday.

Finance Minister Ghazi Wazni, a key negotiator with the International Monetary Fund over a rescue plan to help Lebanon exit a financial crisis, prepared his resignation letter and took it with him to the Cabinet meeting, a source close to him and local media said.

Lebanon's President Michel Aoun had previously said explosive material was stored unsafely for years at the port. He later said the investigation would consider whether the cause was external interference as well as negligence or an accident.

Anti-government protests in the past two days have been the biggest since October, when angry demonstrations spread over an economic crisis rooted in pervasive graft, mismanagement and high-level unaccountability. Protesters accused the political elite of siphoning off state resources for their own benefit.

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

Mr Eli Abi Hanna's house and his car repair shop were destroyed in the blast. "The economy was already a disaster, and now, I have no way of making money again," he said. "It was easier to make money during the civil war. The politicians and the economic disaster have ruined everything."

Said Ms Antoinette Baaklini, an employee of an electricity company that was demolished in the blast: "It won't work, it's just the same people. It's a mafia."

Workers picked up fallen masonry near the building where wall graffiti mocked Lebanon's chronic electricity crisis.

Said university student Marilyne Kassis: "Everyone else in the world has electricity while we have a donkey... It will always be the same. It is just a political game, nothing will change."



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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 11, 2020, with the headline Lebanese govt resigns amid outrage over Beirut blast. Subscribe