Mon | Sep 28, 2020

Lebanese vent fury at leaders over blast

Published:Friday | August 7, 2020 | 12:11 AM
French President Emmanuel Macron (centre) visits the devastated site of the explosion at the port of Beirut, Lebanon, on Thursday. His visit to  Beirut is to offer French support to Lebanon after the deadly port blast.
French President Emmanuel Macron (centre) visits the devastated site of the explosion at the port of Beirut, Lebanon, on Thursday. His visit to Beirut is to offer French support to Lebanon after the deadly port blast.

BEIRUT (AP):

Residents of Beirut vented their fury at Lebanon’s leaders Thursday during a visit by French President Emmanuel Macron, blaming them for the deadly explosion that ravaged the capital. Shouting, “Revolution!” they crowded around the visiting leader, who promised to press the politicians for reform.

For many Lebanese, Tuesday’s giant blast was the last straw after years of corruption and mismanagement by a political elite that has ruled for decades.

The blast, which killed more than 130 people, wounded thousands and left tens of thousands homeless, is believed to have been caused when a fire touched off a stockpile of 2,750 tonnes of highly explosive ammonium nitrate that authorities left sitting in a warehouse for years – despite a customs official’s repeated warnings.

Macron visited the devastated port and toured a hard-hit neighbourhood lined with heavily damaged buildings. A crowd gathered around him and shouted their anger, chanting, “Revolution!” and “The people want to bring down the regime!” – slogans used at mass protests last year.

POLITICAL PACT

Macron told them he would speak to Lebanon’s political leaders.

“I will propose to them a new political pact this afternoon,” he said. “I will be back on the first of September and if they can’t do it, I will keep my responsibility towards you.”

He also promised that French aid would be given out with transparency and “will not go into the hands of corruption”. France once governed Lebanon as a protectorate and maintains close ties.

Elsewhere, he said his visit was “an opportunity to have a frank and challenging dialogue with the Lebanese political powers and institutions”. France will work to coordinate aid, he said, but warned that “if reforms are not made, Lebanon will continue to sink”.

There have been widespread pledges of international aid to Lebanon, but the country has been mired in a severe economic crisis and faces a daunting challenge in rebuilding. It’s unclear how much support the international community will offer the notoriously corrupt and dysfunctional government.