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Beirut explosion: Information minister resigns in wake of protests

Information Minister Manal Abdel Samad has become the first Lebanese government minister to quit in the wake of protests over Tuesday’s devastating blast in Beirut.

“After the enormous Beirut catastrophe, I announce my resignation from government,” she said in a statement on Sunday carried by local media, apologising to the Lebanese public for failing them.

She cited the failure of the government to carry out reforms in addition to the catastrophic explosion that killed more than 150 people and wounded over 6,000 on Tuesday.

The blast, which was felt as far as the island of Cyprus, more than 250 km away, was recorded by the sensors of the American Institute of Geophysics (USGS) as having the power of a magnitude 3.3 earthquake.

It was triggered by a fire in a port warehouse, where a huge shipment of hazardous ammonium nitrate, a chemical that can be used as a fertiliser or as an explosive, had languished for years, according to authorities.

Beirut explosion: Lebanon’s PM calls for early elections as protests turn violent

The revelation that the chemicals had been like a ticking time-bomb in the heart of the capital for so long has served as shocking proof to many Lebanese of the rot at the core of the state apparatus.

Demonstrators on Sunday called for renewed anti-government rallies after a night of angry protests saw them storm several ministries before they were expelled by the army.

It was a new tactic for a protest movement that emerged last October to demand the removal of a political class long accused of being inept and corrupt.

“The explosion in the port left a crater 43 metres deep,” the Lebanese security official told AFP, citing assessments by French experts working in the disaster area.

That compares with the crater left by the enormous blast of the suicide-truck bomb that killed former prime minister Rafik Hariri in 2005, which measured 10 metres across and two metres deep, according to an international tribunal investigating his murder.

French rescue and police teams are among a large group of international emergency response specialists that has flooded into Lebanon to ease pressure on local authorities unable to cope with the disaster relief on their own.

Qatari, Russian and German rescuers are also working at the port blast site.

Church calls for resignation

The head of Lebanon’s Maronite church, meanwhile, called on the entire government to step down over the 4 August explosion.

Maronite patriarch Beshara Rai joined the chorus of people pressing Prime Minister Hassan Diab’s cabinet to step down over a blast he said could be “described as a crime against humanity”.

“It is not enough for a lawmaker to resign here or a minister to resign there,” Rai said in a Sunday sermon.

“It is necessary, out of sensitivity to the feelings of the Lebanese and the immense responsibility required, for the entire government to resign, because it is incapable of moving the country forward.”

Rai echoed calls made by Prime Minister Hassan Diab on Saturday for early parliamentary polls – a long-standing demand of a protest movement that began in October, demanding the removal of a political class deemed inept and corrupt.

He also joined world leaders, international organisations and the angry Lebanese public by pressing for an international investigation into the explosion.

President Michel Aoun on Friday rejected calls for an international investigation, which he said would “dilute the truth”.

Under increased pressure from the street and foreign partners exasperated by the leadership’s inability to enact reforms, Diab’s government is fraying at the edges, with at least six lawmakers having quit since the explosion.

Just a day before the blast, it was announced that Nassif Hitti had quit as foreign minister, warning in his resignation letter that Lebanon “is sliding towards becoming a failed state”.

Diab said he would introduce a law calling for early elections and would remain in office for two months until major parties reach agreement. The most recent general election was held in May 2018. Source