Lebanese protesters take to streets, occupy gov’t buildings in aftermath of blast
Lebanese protesters took to the street yesterday in the aftermath of last week’s explosion, which killed at least 158 people and has left the nation with USD 15 bn in damage to clean up in the capital. Prime Minister Hassan Diab called for early elections as police forces fired tear gas at demonstrators who took to the streets of the Lebanese capital yesterday demanding the government’s resignation. Four members of parliament resigned in response to the demonstrations.
Demonstrators briefly occupied the foreign, economy and energy ministries as well as Lebanon’s banking association, according to AFP’s Beirut bureau.
Food security is an issue in Lebanon, which imports almost all of its wheat. Its only large grain silo was destroyed in the blast. The country was already battling a financial crisis this year, defaulting on debt exceeding 150% of economic output and with IMF loan negotiations at a virtual standstill.
President Michel Aoun has raised the possibility that the blast was caused by “external interference,” announcing to the local press that an investigation would determine whether it was the result of negligence, an accident, or an attack. Twenty people are said to have been detained so far in relation to the blast. Aoun previously said explosive material was stored unsafely for years at the blast site.
Egypt is among several countries mobilizing to support Lebanon in the aftermath of the explosion. The Arab League has pledged its assistance in the investigation and will participate in an international conference call today to discuss aid for the country, Secretary General Ahmed Aboul Gheit told reporters. Meanwhile France, which is organizing the conference call, is being alternately hailed as a beacon of hope and criticized for neocolonialist interference after President Emmanuel Macron visited Beirut earlier this week, AP reports.