Lebanon’s Government Quits as Outrage Swells Over Port Blast
Lebanon’s government decided to resign as an outraged public demanded accountability for the biggest peacetime catastrophe in the nation’s history.
“Resignation is a responsibility,” Health Minister Hamad Hassan said. “We resigned as a responsibility and not an escape from it.”
The Aug. 4 blast in the Port of Beirut killed more than 150 people, injured thousands and displaced hundreds of thousands more. Anger surged in a nation already grimly familiar with decades of governmental malfeasance as it emerged the explosion was caused by 2,750 tons of explosive materials left for six years at the country’s main port in spite of repeated safety warnings.
Lebanon’s own leaders, fearing public anger, have hardly dared to set foot in the devastated areas, and protests erupted late last week demanding regime change and the resignation of Prime Minister Hassan Diab. Multiple ministers had already quit in the aftermath of the disaster.
Four key Lebanese ministers and nine members of parliament have resigned amid large-scale protests blaming last week’s deadly explosion on long-term government neglect and corruption.
Reports emerged following the explosion that the Lebanese government had known about the explosive materials stored at the port suspected of sparking the catastrophe, with customs officials requesting their disposal on multiple occasions—invigorating widespread criticism of the government and heated protests.
Lebanon’s Justice Minister Marie Claude Najm, Finance Minister Ghazi Wazni, Information Minister Manal Abdel Samad and Environment Minister Damianos Kattar all left their posts in an ongoing slew of resignations starting Saturday.
The latest to step down from his position, Wazni was leading negotiations with the International Monetary Fund about rescuing Lebanon from the catastrophe that left at least 200 dead, 5,000 injured and 300,000 homeless (more than 12% of Beirut’s population).
A judge began questioning Lebanon’s security chief, Mayor General Tony Saliba, on Monday amid speculation that the entire government could resign.
Prime Minister Hassan Diab responded to the demands of floods of protesters over the weekend asking for a regime change by offering early elections—but with a two-month delay to reach agreement with the country’s various factions.
Around 20 people have been arrested over the explosion amid an ongoing government investigation, including the country’s current and former heads of customs, the head of the port and port workers dating back to 2014, when the ammonium nitrate was first stored in the hangar.
“I cannot stay within the mafia,” said Paula Yacoubian, one of the nine parliament members to resign. “They stole everything, they destroyed the country, and they want to continue doing business as usual.” The independent parliament member called for the government to resign “and to start again,” calling it the only “reasonable and sane” thing to do.
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