Lebanon information minister quits, in 1st cabinet resignation over Beirut blast

Manal Abdel Samad apologizes to public for failing them; protesters vow new rallies over disaster; 6 lawmakers have stood down since explosion

BEIRUT : Lebanon’s information minister Manal Abdel Samad on Sunday quit, in the first cabinet resignation since a deadly port blast killed more than 150 people and destroyed swaths of the capital.

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

Manal Abdel Samad

The head of Lebanon’s Maronite church meanwhile called on the entire government to step down over the August 4 explosion, a blast widely seen as shocking proof of the rot at the core of the state apparatus.

Lebanese protesters enraged by the blast vowed to rally again after a night of street clashes in which they stormed several ministries.

“Prepare the gallows because our anger doesn’t end in one day,” warned one message circulating on social media in response to Tuesday’s earthquake-strength blast of a huge pile of industrial chemicals.

Lebanese riot police arrest an anti-government protester, who was trying to reach the Parliament building, during a protest against the political elites and the government, in Beirut, Lebanon, August 8, 2020. ( AP Photo/Hussein Malla)

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.”

The Lebanese Maronite patriarch Bechara Boutros al-Rahi asked the cabinet to step down. Photograph: Reuters

“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 by Diab 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.

A partial view of the devastated Beirut port, from the nearby neighborhood of Mar Mikaehl, on August 6, 2020, two days after a massive blast there shook the Lebanese capital. (Patrick BAZ / AFP)

He also joined world leaders, international organizations and the angry Lebanese public by pressing for an international probe into an explosion authorities say was triggered by a fire in a port warehouse, where a huge shipment of hazardous ammonium nitrate had languished for years.

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

At least six lawmakers have quit since the explosion.

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.

The country’s worst peace-time disaster has reignited a protest movement against the reviled ruling elite that first flared last October, but then faded in the face of economic hardship and the coronavirus pandemic.

As tensions have again escalated, the army Saturday used teargas and rubber bullets to clear hundreds of protesters from the central Martyr’s Square, once more the epicenter of Lebanon’s protest movement.

The street violence left 65 people injured, according to the Red Cross, with footage circulating online showing some demonstrators having sustained severe injuries.

In a new tactic, demonstrators temporarily occupied the foreign ministry building, before being forced out by the army three hours later.

AFP

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