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Lebanese government quits amid fury over Beirut blast

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Lebanese government quits amid fury over Beirut blast

By Michael Georgy and Ellen Francis

 

2020-08-10T173634Z_1_LYNXNPEG791FM_RTROPTP_4_LEBANON-SECURITY-BLAST-GOVERNMENT.JPG

Lebanon's Prime Minister Hassan Diab submits his resignation to Lebanon's President Michel Aoun at the presidential palace in Baabda, Lebanon August 10, 2020. REUTERS/Aziz Taher

 

BEIRUT (Reuters) - Lebanon's prime minister announced his government's resignation on Monday, saying a huge explosion that tore through Beirut and caused public outrage was the result of endemic corruption.

 

While the move by Prime Minister Hassan Diab attempted to respond to popular anger about the Aug. 4 blast, many Lebanese calling for a complete overhaul of the political establishment will not be placated.

 

In Paris, French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian urged the swift formation of a new government, saying people's hopes for reform and governance needed to be heard.

 

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

 

"Today we follow the will of the people in their demand to hold accountable those responsible for the disaster that has been in hiding for seven years, and their desire for real change," Diab said in a speech announcing the resignation.

 

The resignation plunged Lebanese politics deeper into turmoil and may further hamper already-stalled talks with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) on a financial rescue plan.

 

Lebanon's prime minister announced his government's resignation on Monday, saying a huge explosion that devastated the capital and stirred public outrage was the result of endemic corruption. Edward Baran reports.

 

The talks, launched in May, were put on hold due to inaction on reforms and a row between the government, banks and politicians over the scale of vast financial losses.

 

Diab said corruption did not stop at Beirut port but was "spread throughout the country's political and administrative landscape" under the protection of a "class controlling the fate" of the country.

 

President Michel Aoun asked Diab's government - formed in January with support from the powerful Iran-backed Hezbollah group and its allies - to stay as a caretaker until a new cabinet is formed.

 

Ahead of Diab's announcement, demonstrations broke out for a third day in central Beirut, with some protesters hurling rocks at security forces guarding an entrance leading to parliament, who responded with tear gas.

 

PRESSURE

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.

 

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

 

The system of government requires Aoun to consult with parliamentary blocs on who should be the next prime minister, and he is obliged to designate the candidate with the greatest level of support among parliamentarians.

 

Forming a government amid factional rifts has been daunting in the past. Now with growing public discontent with the ruling elite over the blast and a crushing financial crisis, it could be difficult to find a candidate willing to be prime minister.

 

After former premier Saad Hariri stepped down in Oct. 2019 amid anti-government protests over perceived corruption, it took over two months to form Diab's government.

 

Diab said on Saturday he would request early parliamentary elections.

 

ACCOUNTABILITY

Aoun has said explosive material was stored unsafely for years at the port. In later comments, he said the investigation would consider whether the cause was external interference as well as negligence or an accident.

 

The cabinet decided to refer the investigation of the blast to the judicial council, the highest legal authority whose rulings cannot be appealed, a ministerial source and state news agency NNA said. The council usually handles top security cases.

 

Lebanese, meanwhile, are struggling to come to terms with the scale of losses after the blast wrecked entire areas.

 

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

 

The Lebanese army said on Monday that another five bodies were pulled from the rubble, raising the death toll to 163. Search and rescue operations continued.

 

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.

 

An international donor conference on Sunday raised pledges worth nearly 253 million euros ($298 million) for immediate humanitarian relief, but foreign countries are demanding transparency over how the aid is used.

 

Some Lebanese doubt change is possible in a country where sectarian politicians have dominated since the 1975-90 conflict.

 

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

 

(Additional reporting by Laila Bassam and Samia Nakhoul in Beirut, Michelle Nichols in New York; Writing by Ghaida Ghantous; Editing by Mark Heinrich, Angus MacSwan, William Maclean)

 

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-- © Copyright Reuters 2020-08-11
 

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Unless they ban Islamic political connections in the government , then its back to square one.

 

They'll vote in a new free government and then Hezbola will start blowing up the politicians

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Posted (edited)

Good riddance, not a moment too soon...Lebanon should foremost clear of any outside influences and foreign dominance fifth column such as Iran's lacky army the Hezbollah who dominate by brute force much of the country' politics and involve lebanon in Iran's wars in countries they have no business being there or die for, second will be to govern the country for the people and not for government pockets.. time will tell how things will unfold...

Edited by ezzra
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As long as Hezbollah calls the shot Lebanon will continue its downwards spiral. Religious fanaticism has no place in politics.  

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12 hours ago, RichardColeman said:

Unless they ban Islamic political connections in the government , then its back to square one.

 

They'll vote in a new free government and then Hezbola will start blowing up the politicians

 

What would you consider "Islamic political connections in government"? Factions supported by Iran? Saudi Arabia? Gulf countries? Lebanon's political system essentially enshrines sectarianism. Key posts are, by law, allocated according to affiliation.

 

"Banning" this or that faction (even if it was conceivable) would not only disenfranchise a large chunk of the electorate, but at the same time pretty much guarantee a renewal of domestic hostilities.

 

How would a government be "free" under such an imposition? 

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3 minutes ago, Morch said:

 

What would you consider "Islamic political connections in government"? Factions supported by Iran? Saudi Arabia? Gulf countries? Lebanon's political system essentially enshrines sectarianism. Key posts are, by law, allocated according to affiliation.

 

"Banning" this or that faction (even if it was conceivable) would not only disenfranchise a large chunk of the electorate, but at the same time pretty much guarantee a renewal of domestic hostilities.

 

How would a government be "free" under such an imposition? 

Lebanon pretty much proves the evils of religion mixing with politics.

It'll be at least a year of wrangling between the various religious groups before a new government will be approved. My bet is that it will resemble the old one with many of the same players.....

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11 hours ago, ezzra said:

Good riddance, not a moment too soon...Lebanon should foremost clear of any outside influences and foreign dominance fifth column such as Iran's lacky army the Hezbollah who dominate by brute force much of the country' politics and involve lebanon in Iran's wars in countries they have no business being there or die for, second will be to govern the country for the people and not for government pockets.. time will tell how things will unfold...

 

Good riddance would have applied to pretty much any possible Lebanese government. That's basically the sentiment on the street, and it's been this way for quite a while now - way before the recent disaster. It's not as if "banning" Hezbollah (even if it was feasible) would ensure good governance or end corruption.

 

Seeing as the Hezbollah may possibly be military stronger than the Lebanese armed forces, how would this "banning" be approached, and how would it pan out?

 

Also, regardless of how one feels about Hezbollah, it cannot be ignored that it represents a large part of the electorate. I'm not sure how disenfranchising these would contribute to Lebanon's democracy.

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1 minute ago, KarenBravo said:

Lebanon pretty much proves the evils of religion mixing with politics.

It'll be at least a year of wrangling between the various religious groups before a new government will be approved. My bet is that it will resemble the old one with many of the same players.....

 

The religious element in Lebanon's politics is often less to do with religion per se, often more of an identity thing. As for the rest, pretty much spot on. If not the same players, than recycled ones, or front men. They could come up with some emergency bureaucrat/expert government, but that's not a solution that likely to last or prove effective.

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