French President Emmanuel Macron has called for a “profound change” in the Lebanese leadership after Tuesday’s huge explosion in Beirut.
Visiting the devastated city, he called for an international investigation.
Many Lebanese claim that government corruption, neglect and mismanagement led to the explosion.
He killed at least 137 people and injured around 5,000 others, while dozens remain missing. A two week state of emergency began.
Lebanese President Michel Aoun says this was caused by 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate stored unsecurely in a warehouse.
- How the ship’s deadly cargo ended up in the Port of Beirut
The state news agency said 16 people had been taken into custody as part of the investigation.
Judge Fadi Akiki, a government official at the military court, said more than 18 port and customs officials and people responsible for or involved in warehouse maintenance work were interviewed.
A number of people are still missing, but media report that a man, Amin Zahid, 42, a father of two, was rescued from the sea around 30 hours after the explosion. It was near the port and was reportedly thrown into the sea by the force of the explosion. He was reportedly found by the navy on Thursday morning.
What did Macron say?
The first world leader to visit since the explosion, Macron described it as a “metaphor for the current crisis in Lebanon” and said a “new political order” was needed. Funding is available for the country but its leaders must first implement reforms, he said.
He also called for an international investigation into the explosion “to prevent things from remaining hidden and doubt setting in,” he said.
An aid conference in Lebanon will be announced in the coming days, he said. France would organize aid with the European Union and the World Bank and ensure that it was sent directly to relief organizations working on the ground.
An audit of the Lebanese central bank was also necessary – “If there is no audit of the central bank, in a few months there will be no more imports and then there will be a lack of fuel. and food, ”Macron said.
Earlier today, Mr Macron was assaulted as he walked through the blast-hit town, with residents begging him for help and denouncing their leaders.
“Help us, you are our only hope,” shouted a resident. “Please don’t give money to our corrupt government,” said another, adding, “We can’t accept this anymore. ”
France – the former colonial power in Lebanon – sent three planes carrying rescuers and medical kits to Lebanon, a fourth arriving later and a French Navy helicopter carrier carrying French investigators and other supplies that are due to arrive next week.
The country’s Supreme Defense Council insisted that those found responsible for the explosion would face the “maximum penalty”. Rights groups also called for an independent investigation, saying the Lebanese justice system could not conduct a transparent investigation on its own.
Meanwhile, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch (HRW) have called for an independent investigation into the blast. In a statement, HRW said it had “serious concerns about the capacity of the Lebanese justice system to conduct a credible and transparent investigation on its own”.
A city of sirens, empty buildings and empty streets
By Quentin Sommerville, BBC News, Beirut
This port was Lebanon’s lifeline for the whole world. Something like 80% of the county’s grain has passed through here. The grain elevators, which were built a long time ago, are faltering. Just beyond there I can see a list of heavily ships. I’ve lived in Beirut for five years and it’s almost unrecognizable – it’s a city of sirens, empty buildings, empty streets.
As I look at the Gemmayze district just behind the port, I can’t see a single window. Entire rooftops are gone – I can see friends’ apartments that are just open to the sky now. This whole area, which was really very populated, was abandoned. No one will be back here anytime soon.
What’s really remarkable about walking the streets here is that one in two people seem to have a broom in their hand. There are cleanup crews everywhere, but it’s pretty low-tech: tiny teams of people with pots and brushes to clean up the devastation of an entire city.
What really strikes me is how stupid it was, what criminal negligence it took to leave this highly explosive material right in the heart of this city, a few feet from people, their homes, their businesses. And the authorities here knew – they had been warned that these chemicals were dangerous and that they posed a great risk to Beirut and Lebanon.
What triggered the explosion?
The ammonium nitrate – which is used as a fertilizer and an explosive – had been in a warehouse at the port for six years after being unloaded from a seized ship in 2013.
The head of the port and the head of the customs authority said he wrote to the courts on several occasions to demand that the chemical be exported or sold to ensure the security of the port.
Port general manager Hassan Koraytem told OTV they knew the material was dangerous when a court first ordered it to be stored in the warehouse, “but not to this degree “.
The house arrest would apply to all port officials “who managed the storage business. [the] ammonium nitrate, keeping it and taking care of its paperwork ”since June 2014, said Information Minister Manal Abdel Samad.
The ammonium nitrate arrived on a Moldovan-flagged vessel, the Rhosus, which entered the port of Beirut after suffering technical problems during its voyage from Georgia to Mozambique, according to Shiparrested.com, which deals with legal matters related to navigation.
The Rhosus was inspected, banned from leaving and soon after abandoned by its owners, prompting several lawsuits. Its cargo was being stored in a port warehouse for security reasons, according to the report.
Learn more about the explosion in Beirut
What are the latest rescue efforts?
A French rescue team working in the town said there was still a good chance of finding survivors two days after the explosion.
An anonymous rescuer told Mr Macron they hoped to find a group of seven or eight people who would be trapped in a “control room” under the rubble.
Security forces cordoned off a large area around the site of the explosion.
Public Health Minister Hamad Hassan said the Lebanese health sector lacked beds and the necessary equipment to treat the injured and treat critically ill patients.
See the extent of the damage at the Beirut explosion site
August 5, 2020
January 25, 2020
As many as 300,000 people were left homeless as a result of the explosion, Beirut Governor Marwan Aboud said.
He told the BBC: “Beirut needs food, Beirut needs clothes, houses, materials to rebuild the houses. Beirut needs a place for refugees, for its inhabitants ”.
Economy Minister Raoul Nehme said the country should at least partly rely on foreign aid to rebuild itself.
“We don’t swim in dollars,” he told Sky News Arabia.
What is the context?
The explosion comes at a sensitive time for Lebanon. With the increase in Covid-19 infections, hospitals were already struggling to cope. Today, they have to treat thousands of wounded.
The country is also going through the worst economic crisis since the civil war of 1975-1990, and tensions were already high with street protests against the government. People face daily power cuts, lack of clean water and limited public health care.
Lebanon imports most of its food and large quantities of grain stored in the port have been destroyed, raising fears of widespread food insecurity. The future of the port itself is in doubt.
The government has announced it will release £ 100bn (£ 50.5m; $ 66m) in emergency funds, but the impact of the explosion on the economy is expected to be long-lasting.
The explosion occurred near the scene of a massive car bomb attack that killed former Prime Minister Rafic Hariri in 2005. A verdict in the trial of four men accused of orchestrating the attack was awaited Friday in a special court in the Netherlands, but that was postponed to August 18 out of respect for the victims of Tuesday’s explosion.
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